Presidential Scholar nominee Julia Young likes being challenged

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff

Julia Young runs on Nov. 5 with the Voorheesville girls’ cross-country team, which won sectionals that day and went on to win the state championship.


VOORHEESVILLE — Julia Young, a student at Clayton A. Bouton High School, is one of 25 seniors in New York State nominated as a Presidential Scholar, a recognition the Regents chancellor called “the pinnacle” — and yet Julia Young is humble.

The day after the nominations were announced, Young told The Enterprise she was surprised by the accolade.

“I like being challenged,” she says in this week’s Enterprise podcast of what motivates her.

“Julia is one of those rare students,” said Kristin DuGuay, Voorheesville’s high school principal, who submitted Young’s name for the honor. 

She described Young as musically talented, athletically gifted, academically driven — and kind.

“I hope my own children grow up to be like her,” said DuGuay.

Every year since 1964, when the program was established, the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars chooses up to 161 U.S. Presidential Scholars from among the senior class.

DuGuay described a recent high school concert where sickness has felled a number of the singers and said, with just 24 hours to prepare, Young stepped up and learned the needed songs so the performance could go on. 

“That’s her,” said DuGuay.

She also said the news of receiving the nomination was “quite a shock” to Young. “She’s so humble in ways others would not be,” said DuGuay.

Young went out for an hour-long run after hearing the news. She is on her school’s indoor track team and this past fall, Young was a member of the girls’ cross-country team that became state champions.

Young started her education at the Hebrew Academy in Albany, and says “it was definitely interesting to connect with that part of my culture.”

After kindergarten and first grade at the Hebrew Academy, with just 12 children in her class, Young started at Voorheesville Elementary School in second grade, transitioning to a class with 100 or so students. She says it was really nice “to be part of my own community.”

Young has one sibling, a sister three years older than she, who has attended boarding school since ninth grade. Their father is a meteorologist and their mother had worked as a hospital administrator.

“My family is very, very supportive,” said Young, “but my parents give me a huge amount of freedom to make my own decisions and do what I want to do.”

Young describes herself as passionate about music, about speaking Spanish, and about “technical sorts of things — like I love physics and math,” she says.

“You could argue that they’re all just different ways of looking at the world and different ways of thinking,” she says.

Young plays the French horn, and recently performed with the All-State Band, and she also plays the piano as well as singing and composing music.

“I am very into songwriting,” she says, and has a large portfolio of songs she has written. Young has recently realized the value of classical notated music in allowing large groups of musicians to play together and has started composing that.

She describes some of her songs, which are often “energetic and fast,” as “cynical social commentary.”

Young likes recording her music and adding elements she wouldn’t otherwise have like percussion. While composing, Young usually starts with the melody rather than the lyrics.

“When I write a song, I really have to have something to say … like a deep feeling or deep thoughts about something,” she says. If a song is forced, Young says, it is “a song about nothing instead of actually having a song that is meaningful.”

Young enjoys subjects like physics and math “because they have very clear rules about the way things work.”

She particularly likes the way music and math intersect in music theory, which she studied at Voorheesville with Christopher Jantson. “The technical aspect of music is a whole new way … [to] understand what I was doing or what I was listening to.”

Young also praised her physics teacher, Theodore Simons, who teaches a college-level or Advanced Placement course.

Although it was one of the hardest classes Young has taken, she said, “It was really gratifying to just be able to see things about the physical world … realize some of the rules, like the subtleties of how things work in a whole different way.”

Young started learning Spanish in seventh grade and is now in an Advanced Placement class. “It’s very, very satisfying for me to be able to express thoughts in, like, as many ways as possible,” she says; that includes in music as well as in another language.

“It’s so cool to see a different way of thinking about the world,” says Young, who enjoys listening to Spanish television shows and music.

In college next year, Young hopes to have a double major in “music and something else,” she said. The University of Michigan has a great music school, she said, and established programs in dual majors.

“Last night, I also found out that I got into Princeton University … That’s really changed my college search in the past 24 hours,” Young said.

Although she hasn’t yet committed to any school, Young said, “I feel much less stressed about finding a good place because I know I have an option now.”

Young knows she wants music to continue to be part of her life but, she says, “I just don’t know if I’m cut out to completely pursue music as my entire life.”

At age 17, she concludes, “I’m just grateful for the cards I’ve been dealt and the situations I’ve been put in, which I think helped me grow.”


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