Finding His Voice
Tyler Packer with MSU President Mark E. Keenum
4-H'er discovers his passion, gets big opportunities
The Tuesday before Thanksgiving found Tyler Packer packing up to head to Atlanta, Georgia, to attend the National 4-H Congress.
The high school junior had spent the entire year helping to plan and organize the 94th annual National Congress, an event that recognizes excellence and provides opportunities for delegates to develop leadership skills through workshops, tours, and hands-on service projects.
The event brought more than 1,000 4-H delegates together from across the country to learn, serve, and discover new resources. 4-H is the youth development organization for the MSU Extension Service and other land-grant universities nationwide.
4-H National Congress is arranged by a 22-member committee made up of 15 4-H employees and seven 4-H’ers. Packer was one of those seven.
“The kids plan this whole conference, and the process to get on the planning committee is competitive,” says Packer, a native of Stateline. “I am very honored to have been selected.
“I have no words for how awesome it was,” Packer says.
The youth component of the committee is called the Design Team. The team met periodically through conference calls and video conference during the year leading up to the conference.
4-H members were responsible for suggesting speakers, tours, workshop topics, service-learning projects, and other experiences for the six-day conference.
A self-described shy and reserved child, Packer would not have considered even attending such an event, much less helping plan it, four or five years ago.
He says he’s changed mostly because of his involvement in 4-H.
“4-H is an organization that challenges you and allows you to find your strengths along the way,” Packer says.
Martha Jackson-Banks, 4-H Leadership Development specialist, says she has seen Tyler grow as a result of his involvement in 4-H.
“The power 4-H has is really amazing,” she says. “When you meet Tyler, you would have no idea that he was ever shy. He is always smiling and never meets a stranger. He has taken every opportunity to increase his public speaking, leadership, and personal development skills.
“I have watched his level of confidence and knowledge increase as he has taken on more responsibility and discovered something he really enjoys and is good at.”
Packer has been involved with 4-H since the summer after he was in third grade, when his mom took him to a 4-Hsponsored arts and crafts meeting at the Greene County Extension office.
“My mom said she wanted me to see if I liked it,” he says. “So I went to the meetings that summer and decided to see what it had to offer.”
After that summer, he tried out many of the organization’s projects, including entomology, seed identification, and shooting sports, before discovering his passion—public speaking.
Packer competed in numerous county, district, and state speaking contests, and he refined his skill to earn the privilege of attending 4-H State Congress, the annual MSU campus event open to senior 4-H members, ages 14 to 19. The assembly gives young people practical learning experiences and expands their leadership opportunities. Attendees can run for State 4-H Council offices and participate in workshops aimed at further developing their leadership abilities.
Packer says the three-day event has been a growth experience for him each year and influenced his decision to become a member of the 4-H Leadership Team.
“My first year, I competed in the public speaking contest but didn’t win anything,” Packer explains. “But I worked the next year to improve and placed during my second and third years.”
In 2015, he placed first and earned a January 2016 trip to Colorado to compete in the national 4-H public speaking contest.
“Tyler is a wonderful representative of Mississippi 4-H,” says Jackson-Banks. “Every time I see him he has a big smile on his face, which is contagious. His positive attitude and love of 4-H radiates.”
Packer campaigned for and won a seat on the 4-H State Council during his second year at State Congress, where he was elected song leader.
A classically trained pianist who also plays saxophone and enjoys singing, Packer regularly performs in church and was a member of his school band until ninth grade. But he had never played piano or sung outside his church—until his second year at State Congress.
“I decided I would run for song leader that year,” he says. “I was up there singing and playing, and people were clapping and encouraging me. That really made me feel good. I learned that people generally accepted me for what I had to offer.”
Packer sang the national anthem to represent Mississippi 4-H at the 2015 Sunbelt Ag Expo, where Mississippi was the spotlight state. The Expo showcases the region’s agriculture and its advancements each year in Moultrie, Georgia.
“Dr. (Paula) Threadgill approached me and asked me if I would like to sing the national anthem at the Expo,” Packer explains. “I said I’d love to do it, but I didn’t realize until about three weeks before we left what a huge deal it was.
“And when we got there, I was like, whoa. I was really blown away that I got to represent Mississippi 4-H in that kind of venue. I got to meet the governor of Georgia, the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture, and Dr. Mark Keenum, the MSU president. It was a great experience,” Packer says.
He currently serves as state vice president and plans to run for president in 2016. During his last year in 4-H, Packer will be making important decisions about his future—a future influenced by 4-H. He wants to study business, law, and politics in college and eventually work as a diplomat for the United Nations.
“My involvement in the public speaking track of 4-H has definitely guided me in that direction,” he says. “I grew to love public speaking because it is an avenue that can change opinions. It allows me to be bold and passionate about my opinions and show others a different viewpoint. 4-H helped me become skilled at public speaking and taught me the best way to use my talent.”