By, Rhonda McCurry
John Edwards is grateful for his experience showing livestock each time he leads Smokey the coonhound, the University of Tennessee-Knoxville (UTK) mascot, through the “T” before a home football game in Neyland Stadium.
Edwards is glad for the scholarships he received because he was able to afford to attend a major university his freshman and sophomore years, not having to transfer to UTK after completing coursework elsewhere.
Edwards is thankful for his connections in agriculture that made him an Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brother, an agriculture student body leader and the recipient of the Arch E. McClanahan scholarship, a recurring financial award presented to only two incoming freshmen each year.
All of these experiences have shaped his life and he is thankful to have earned the money through scholarships to pay for it.
Edwards grew up following his two older sisters around the show barn. As they worked with their lambs, he watched. When it was time for him to show he entered the ring with a heightened spirit for competition. And that spirit only grew as he showed lambs, hogs and steers throughout his 4-H and FFA career.
He listened as his dad, mom and their siblings and uncles talked about show ring stories. Edwards says he wanted to be as good as them, to win as many shows as they did. But, what he truly earned from showing livestock, was the reward of spending time with family and the circles of friends in the livestock industry.
Now a junior at UTK, Edwards has accumulated a list of financial awards that are helping him pay for his secondary education. He’s earned state 4-H and FFA scholarships, UTK agricultural scholarship, Alpha Gamma Rho scholarships, an animal science departmental scholarship and a coveted Alpha Kappa chapter scholarship, which presented $39,000 in award money last year.
Edwards looks back at how scholarships helped him reach his goals faster. He says he’s earned approximately $16,000 to support both his freshman and sophomore years of college – each.
“Being in the show industry gave me a real passion for animal husbandry and animal agriculture,” Edwards says. “Over the years you might not have the best livestock at the show, but if you really have a passion for animal agriculture you can earn that scholarship money to further your education.”
In five years time, Edwards hopes to be working for a major food production company like Tyson Foods or JBS. He says his experience in the show ring and caring for livestock have directly impacted his career choice to produce healthy, wholesome food products for a growing population.
“Food is a consumer-driven industry,” he says. “Showing really influenced me and made me pursue a career in ag. When you are up all hours of night working livestock and showing them in a show ring stage, you develop a respect for people who raise them for a living. That really pushed me to pursue a career in animal ag.”
There are many things Edwards is thankful for this season, including family, his farm and freedom, but he knows he wouldn’t have the college experience he currently has without hard work in the show barn that led to successful scholarship applications. He encourages high school seniors to apply for as many scholarships as possible and to network and build their reference lists.
“My first time applying I was scared to death,” he says. “I didn’t send out my resume because I didn’t want to look stupid, but trust me no one is making fun of you for putting yourself on the line to get an education.”