ELKO — The keynote session planned for this year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering is a departure from the traditional format, but the approach aims to inspire audiences by showing ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

Instead of one high-profile individual taking the stage as in years past, three speakers will take turns sharing stories about their lives in the West.

“I think the timing is right to let rural folks or native Westerners tell their own stories,” said Kristin Windbigler, executive director of the Western Folklife Center since late June.

Titled “Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things,” the session features three individuals who are contributing to the health of the rural West.

“They are three really different folks,” said Darcy Minter, communications director for the Western Folklife Center, “and it’s all obviously related to Western traditions.”

Elko High School English teacher Emily Nielson will describe her experience coaching students to recite poems in conjunction with Poetry Out Loud and the Western Folklife Center. Nielson and her team set out to give young people the confidence to be heard, and Windbigler said that courage is contagious: Nielson has become the student — and is now standing up to share their story.

“It’s really hometown pride,” Windbigler said.

Rancher and commercial airline pilot Eric Trigg will express how he and his extended family had to adapt to preserve their 100-year-old ranch. After the death of their father, the Trigg family had to get creative to ensure a strong future for the New Mexico ranch. Despite some family members pursuing outside careers, they came together to run the ranch and monitor its progress because keeping it intact was more important to them than the money they’d make from selling, Windbigler said. (Trigg is also scheduled to participate in the conversation titled “Keeping the Ranch in the Family” on Feb. 3.)

Apache and Navajo chef Nephi Craig will serve up a talk about how he founded the Western Apache Café and Learning Center in Arizona and launched the Native American Culinary Association. He provides local opportunities for nutritional recovery, training and employment. He is “helping his folks reconnect with their food,” Windbigler said.

The purpose of having three distinct speakers is “to preserve the traditions and values we all share as Westerners but figure out where to adapt to fit into the rest of the world,” Windbigler said.

In the end, she wants audiences to “leave feeling inspired to tell their own stories and also actively participate in shaping the place where they live.”

The keynote address, presented in collaboration with Great Basin College and sponsored by Nevada Humanities, is slated for 9:15 a.m., Feb. 1 at the Elko Convention Center.

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