Before President Barack Obama gave his final State of the Union address Tuesday night, Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Howard Township, said he was hoping to hear two things from the president’s speech.
First, he hoped to hear Obama discuss safety and security — the “first principle of American leadership,” Thompson said. Second, he wanted to hear about the “pathway to opportunity” Obama envisions for America.
Thompson, however, already has his own ideas about how to illuminate that pathway — and brought a guest who exemplifies his vision.
Thompson invited Bald Eagle Area agriculture teacher and FFA leader Todd Biddle to Washington, D.C., highlighting a man he says shows a new generation how to be successful in Pennsylvania’s No. 1 industry — agriculture.
Biddle teaches students at Bald Eagle Area High School the technical and leadership skills needed to gain success in agriculture and in life. This is essential in Pennsylvania, where 1 in 7 jobs are related to agriculture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
“The type of education that Todd (Biddle) provides in touching the lives of young people in Centre County really leads to life-changing experiences,” Thompson said. “When you look at the economic issues and problems that the country is facing, this type of education can really lead to good paying jobs.”
Biddle said he was honored and speechless to receive an invitation to the president’s address.
“I’m a pretty humble person. I describe myself as a person who’s lost in passion,” Biddle said. “I’m one of the last teachers to leave every day, not because it’s a job but because I like what I do.”
Despite his humility, Biddle has had a banner week as an educator. This weekend, several of his students took top honors in the 100th Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Biddle said his students were “exceptional” in this year’s show, taking a clean sweep in the miniature landscape competition and two students reaching their goal to sell their animals in the livestock show — which is a “really big deal at the Farm Show,” Thompson added.
According to a press release, four of Biddle’s students will receive their Keystone Degree from the Pennsylvania FFA, which represents the highest level of recognition for FFA students. An additional six students will receive their FFA jackets, officially joining the organization.
Among the Farm Show exhilaration, Biddle said his students spared no enthusiasm about his invitation to the president’s address.
“They were extremely excited and really liked sharing in the opportunity. My students and I are a team,” Biddle said. “They even gave me personal messages that they would relay to the president if they had the chance.”
Biddle said his students are concerned about Obama’s gun regulations — an issue notably absent in the president’s speech.
Just one week after he unveiled a series of unilateral actions to reduce gun violence, Obama’s only reference to the issue was a six-word call for progress on “protecting our kids from gun violence.” He sandwiched it in between calls for fixing immigration and ensuring equal pay, The Associated Press reported.
Biddle’s students, many avid hunters and fishers, could be affected by the strict gun regulations. For them, guns are a means to valuable resources.
“A lot of them depend on hunting natural resources as a food source,” he said. “... It really hits hard with them. They use guns to kill food. They understand that it’s not the gun itself — it’s the person handling it.”
Biddle said whether or not his students end up in agriculture, the skills he teaches are transferable to the rest of their lives. Agriculture teaches leadership, hard work and “never resting on your laurels” — key abilities for young people entering a crowded job market.
Thompson said this emphasis on technical education is one of the reasons he invited Biddle to Washington Tuesday night.
“For me the pathway to opportunity for Americans is really through education and through job training,” Thompson said. “(Biddle) is example of a competent and effective teacher within the district (who does that).”