Jillian Brandenburg

Jillian Brandenburg, who plans to be a wildlife veterinarian, graduated from Gordon Lee High School in Chickamauga as valedictorian of her class and also earned the distinction of Georgia Scholar from the Georgia Department of Education.

Jillian Brandenburg has worked hard during her school years and it’s paying off now that she’s graduated and is headed to college.

Jillian graduated as valedictorian (read her valedictorian speech) from Gordon Lee High School in May. She was also chosen as a Georgia Scholar by the Georgia Department of Education -- one of five students in Walker and Catoosa counties to earn that distinction.

We’ll share more about Jillian through her own words -- her graduation speech and an interview with her, but a few thoughts from her mother are in order, too.

Cindy Brandenburg says her daughter has always been a focused and serious learner but that the part a parent plays can be crucial to a child’s future. “I really think our children need us even more in high school than when they’re younger,” she says. “That’s a time they need to learn to be organized and make good decisions and they benefit from their parents’ guidance and participation in their lives.”

Brandenburg advises parents to be involved at school and at home. “Keep a résumé beginning in middle school,” she suggests. “List their academic achievements as well as volunteer work, and update every time there’s something new to include. It will really help with college and job applications.”

Brandenburg also suggests that parents make home a nest for their children, a place where they can let down their hair and feel nurtured and loved. “There’s a lot of pressure at school and out in the world,” she says. “They need someplace where they can just be themselves and feel safe.”

Is there anything Brandenburg would do differently? “I would be more laid back in the younger years. I’d let Jill wear her rain boots if she wanted to, instead of the fancy outfit and dress shoes I wanted her to wear for every picture.”

A final piece of advice from Brandenburg is that parents should urge their teens to carefully consider the courses they plan to major in. “There are some things that can translate into a lot of career paths, like biology, and some things that limit you. Art -- what I majored in for instance -- may not open doors for you just anywhere.”

And now Jillian’s answers to our questionnaire.

Academic accomplishments: Gordon Lee High School 2019 graduate and valedictorian. Georgia scholar, STAR student for GLHS and system winner for Walker County. An SAT score of 1460.

School, extracurricular activities: Student Council president, class president all four years, member of National Honor Society, FFA (originally known as Future Farmers of America), Key Club, HOSA (Healthcare Occupations Students of America), singles player on the varsity tennis team for four years, voted “Most Likely to Succeed.”

Community and work activities: 288 service hours while in high school (examples: Walker County Animal Shelter, Walker County Progressive Agriculture Safety Days, Hidden Hollow Camp Counselor, Hope Fellowship Presbyterian Church mission trips, East Ridge Animal Hospital, DASH for Down Syndrome, Walker County Special Olympics, Blood Assurance, Ronald McDonald House), member of Hope Fellowship Presbyterian Church and employed as a vet assistant at Main Street Veterinary Clinic.

Post-high school education plans: I will attend the University of Georgia, where I've been accepted into the Honors Program, as a pre-vet fisheries and wildlife major and

I'll minor in biology. I plan to apply to vet school and hope to become a wildlife veterinarian.

Accomplishments you’re proud of: I'm especially proud and honored to have been chosen as a 2018 Governor's Honors program finalist in agricultural science at Berry College. It was one month of rigorous study along with 16 other ag majors from around the state. It was a life-changing experience for me and so many of the friends I made will also be attending UGA in the fall, including my roommate. I'm also proud to have achieved my goal of being the valedictorian of my extremely competitive class.

Someone you admire: I chose my biology and zoology teacher, Mrs. O'Neal, as my STAR teacher because she has had a big influence on me through the life lessons she regularly teaches all of her students. She makes me want to be a better person.

An experience that has influenced you: During my time at the Governor's Honors program I met students of all backgrounds, faiths and political beliefs. We found that we were mature enough to have conversations to better understand our differences. As the daughter of a hunter, I had an opportunity to defend hunting as an important part of conservation and to explain that not all hunters are trophy hunters, which was surprising for people to hear.

Advice to your future self: To work just as hard as I always have to continue to achieve the goals I've set for myself. In the end, you don't remember how hard it was to get there, just that it was all worth it when you did.

Something you would do differently: I honestly loved high school and if I had the opportunity to go back, I wouldn't change anything about my experience.

Something on your bucket list: I would like to have the opportunity to study abroad in Australia and New Zealand.

Something people may not know about you: People may not know that I don't really enjoy public speaking, but with my experience as Student Council president and class president, I've become more comfortable over the years.

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.