INDIANAPOLIS – After attending his first National FFA Convention & Expo, Clayton Thomas set a goal: to become a drum major in the National FFA Band. In August, his dream came true: Thomas, a member of the Normal West FFA Chapter in Illinois, was chosen as one of two drum majors to lead the band.
“I was caught off guard in total disbelief,” Thomas exclaimed. “I thought, ‘Me, an FFA member from Illinois, chosen from a group of about 25 other people who auditioned–what an honor,'” Thomas said. “Music of all kinds is important and a big part of life to me and my family. When I told my mom, dad, and the rest of the family that I was selected, they were all just so proud.”
But then life happened. The day that Thomas was set to leave for the 90th National FFA Convention to begin rehearsing for the band, his father passed away from his battle with cancer. Despite his family experiencing this tragedy, he knew he still had to perform.
“My dad was the type of parent who tried to attend every performance, sporting event, or ceremony his kids were involved in,” Thomas said. “The weekend before I left for Indianapolis was the Illinois State Marching Band Championship, and my dad could not attend because his health wouldn’t allow him to. This upset him–he loved to hear me play and support me. Although he wasn’t allowed to see me perform, I know he was watching me from above play in and conduct the band. I just know he had the same joyful smile on his face just as I did,” Thomas said.
Thomas directed and played in the band through five performances at convention. “Getting the chance to be a drum major and playing in the National FFA Band was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. The people who I met and the memories that I created will be cherished forever.”
Katie Burns is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She works full time for the Illinois Association FFA as the communications specialist. Burns is serving as a reporter for the 90th National FFA Convention & Expo Newsroom Crew.