Top students are calling their own tunes

By Mitch Gaynor

From hearing her grandmother playing jazz as a small child, Shelby Johnson has had a singular focus that is set to be taken to the next level this year. 

The 2021 Maleny State High School valedictorian is bound for Brisbane with her passion for jazz guiding her to the prestigious Conservatorium of Music.

The talented singer wowed her examiners with a series of jazz standards before being accepted into the competitive course.

Shelby soon hopes to combine her jazz skills with her other passion, the Japanese language – an unusual combination to the uninitiated, but not so, says Shelby.

“I did originally think that it was unusual, but jazz is really big in Japan, which is why I became more driven to study both, because a dream of mine is to go to Japan and perform over there,” she said.

The Ella Fitzgerald fan said she fell in love with jazz after her grandmother played it regularly on the radio. Her goal after university is to continue singing and performing.

“I want to be performing after I graduate, as front or backing vocals and to be in the music industry as much as I can,” she said.

But there’s no reason you must go straight to university after school. Just ask Immanuel Lutheran College 2021 dux, Luca Chaddock from Witta, who has opted for a gap year ahead of tertiary study.

Luca was offered a place at Australian National University and The University of Queensland, but has instead deferred and will move to Brisbane and work for the year.

Luca said after 13 years of study and plenty more ahead of him, he wanted to take a year to think differently.

“I’m going to head into I don’t know how many more years of study, but I want to take the time to do a few things that I want,” he said.

“I would like to do some things and not have to worry about what I’m going to be doing at uni.”

His preference for study will eventually be a Bachelor of Advanced Science (Honours), where he will pursue an interest in neurology.

“I very much hope that it will lead to either a doctorate degree or alternatively to research science. I am interested in neurology – not clinical or medical, but research-based.”

Brooke Ferguson is going to put her love of maths, physics and design to practical use when she takes up civil engineering at Sunshine Coast University.

Opting to stay local despite offers in Brisbane, the Beerwah State High School 2021 dux said her interest in building and design was sparked by a visit to the university in grade nine.

From there her interest in big infrastructure projects has grown.

“I like the infrastructure side of things, bridges and roads. That’s always interested me for some reason,” she said.

“It keeps going back to primary school. I loved the structural aspects of doing something like creating a bridge out of straws.”

Brooke said she has one eye on working on some of the massive projects that will be needed for the Brisbane Summer Olympics in 2032.

“I’d love to be a part of that,” she said.

Main image: Brooke Ferguson, Luca Chaddock and Shelby Johnson

Note: The print version of this article stated Shelby was Maleny State High School 2021 Dux. She was the school’s valedictorian.