Class of 2022: Ballston Spa’s top academic student Fernau enjoys math, music and volunteering

Jillian Fernau is the valedictorian of the Class of 2022 at Ballston Spa High School.
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Jillian Fernau is the valedictorian of the Class of 2022 at Ballston Spa High School.

BALLSTON SPA – A quick look at Jillian Fernau’s accomplishments and one might wonder how she does it. She is, after all, the valedictorian of her Ballston Spa High School’s graduating class of about 302 students and achieved a 99.49 average.

Fernau says it’s all about being goal oriented.

“I’ve always made lists even in grade school and then crossed things out I’d done,” she said with a laugh. “I’m also very good at time management. There are so many things I like to do. I’ve had to decide where I wanted to put my time.”

So that includes three honors courses, several college level courses, and eight advanced placement courses with most of them in mathematics or history. These studies resulted in her being on the Principal’s List each year and earning an Advanced Regents Diploma with mastery in mathematics and science plus the Seal of Biliteracy and Seal of Civic Readiness.

“I find math fun,” she said, “even in middle school. I like the pure theoretical math especially for college. I like the hands-on rather than just studying for tests.”

Fernau will be attending Northeastern University in Boston, where she’ll get to do research in math.

But that’s just her academic studies. She’s also been heavily involved in the community and with her classmates through volunteer activities.

“The Ronald McDonald House is the most important,” Fernau said. “I had pertussis whooping cough when I was a baby and my parents reached out to them. So I was a volunteer there since I was three years old. My mom would sit me down with crayons with other kids and I’d color with them.”

Fernau eventually became a board member and a Teen Ambassador. Besides also working with NYS Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner as part of a youth leadership program, Ferrnau became involved as a tutor and Unified Sports Partner with the NYS Special Olympics and with some members of her school.

“We’d do bowling or basketball or we’d connect and go to a movie or just be able to walk down a hall at school and say ‘Hi,’ ” she said.

Fernau is, however, not all work and no play. She took up upright bass in fourth grade.

“My parents both played flute through high school and I thought about that, but then I decided instead to choose the biggest instrument and the one that didn’t fit on the bus,” she said laughing.

Fernau played in orchestra and then learned electric bass so she could play in the school jazz band. Because jazz is often an improvisational art form, that is something she had to learn especially because bass players have to lay down a line that the other instruments play off of.

“I watched some YouTubes and figured out how to do what sounded good,” she said.

As a bass player, she’s played in the pit orchestra for the school’s musicals and is a member of the Ballston Spa Community Jazz Band. Not an athlete, she opted out of soccer in ninth grade when it conflicted too much with her music events, she said.

With so much going on in her life, Fernau added yet another layer when she ran for class president in her freshman year.

“I ran opposed that first year and won,” she said. “But [being class president] is a lot of work. After that year, I ran unopposed. They thought Jill is going to do a good job, so I was re-elected.”

Fernau credits “all the great people, the good advisers, and lots of participants” with how successful her class turned out.

“We had thirty delegates to plan events,” she said.

Fernau credits her parents with her success.

“My parents have been very supportive,” she said. “I’ve been very lucky.”

Her father Jason is a manager in a data reporting firm; her mother Kathy is a Burnt Hill’s elementary teacher. She also has an older brother, Henry, who is an artist, who does cartoon style painting, who works locally and although he is more than ten years older than Fernau is someone she is very close to, she said.

As for Fernau’s goals, she said she’d once considered becoming a teacher.

“But since COVID, I’ve changed my mind,” she said. “I’m thinking of going into data analytics to do math but not only just math.”

Fernau also said she likes to read, run and go to the gym. But “baking with Mom I like. We aren’t very good but we have a good time.”

Categories: Life and Arts, Saratoga Springs

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