Troy grad heads to Air Force Academy with goal of being an astronaut

Ella Furlong, a 2020 Troy High School graduate, was a key player on the Trojans’ 22-3 volleyball team and also was student body president. CONTRIBUTED / LEE WOOLERY, SPEEDSHOT PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED / LEE WOOLERY, SPEEDSHOT PHOTO

Credit: CONTRIBUTED / LEE WOOLERY, SPEEDSHOT PHOTO

Author Norman Vincent Peale is famous for the saying, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

That motto is a good match for new Troy graduate Ella Furlong — for the way she challenged herself in high school, and for her career goals, as she heads to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

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“The closer I’ve gotten to this goal of USAFA, the more I decided, yes, this is what I want to do. I want to be an astronaut,” Furlong said. “And if that doesn’t happen, I might be lucky enough to work for NASA or work for the Space Force or Air Force. There’s just a lot of opportunities that come with that journey.”

School officials said Furlong will be the first female Troy graduate to attend the Air Force Academy. But she still has a clear hometown role model in her pursuit of becoming an astronaut.

Nancy Currie-Gregg, a 1977 Troy grad, was part of four NASA shuttle missions between 1993 and 2002, and Furlong said she’s done multiple research projects on Currie-Gregg over the years.

“Her legacy and her accomplishments have really given me something I can look up to,” Furlong said. “She went the military route, and she was in a field that’s mostly dominated by men. And so what she has done has really driven me personally.”

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Furlong’s years at Troy High School show that she has the work ethic to take on multiple challenges and succeed. She was a high-achieving student academically, while also playing varsity volleyball and softball. She was both student body president and homecoming queen this year.

Furlong said she considers herself a math and science person, but some of her favorite classes also came in English and history. She said English teacher Julia Watson challenged her as a writer, and Jason Scott made history fun, even when it was hard.

“I struggled in his class, but he really made me enjoy it,” Furlong said. “And I think that I value that a lot more than just getting getting an ‘A’ in their classes. … They really they made me interested. They’re great teachers, and I really appreciate them.”

Scott said Furlong stands out for several reasons, with perseverance and determination to reach her goals near the top of the list.

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“Beyond her impressive academic skills, it’s her charisma and personality that make her such a well-rounded person and an absolute pleasure to teach,” said Scott, who taught Furlong her freshman year, as well as in a College Credit Plus U.S. History class as a junior.

Scott said an example of Furlong’s well-rounded nature came junior year, when she decided to audition for the school musical, despite no experience in school theater. She got a small part last year, then was cast in a bigger role this spring before Troy’s production of The Addams Family was canceled.

“It’s just an example of her pushing her boundaries and trying new things,” Scott said. “She is not easy to fit into a singular box — she’s smart, and an athlete, and theatrical, and civic-minded, and popular with her classmates.”

Furlong had played sports (both school and club) every year and enjoyed that a great deal. But she said trying theater was especially fun for her and helped her meet new people.

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“Auditioning in front of all my peers and in front of these choir teachers and band teachers I had never had before? That was extremely nerve wracking because I can’t sing and I could hardly dance at the time,” Furlong said. “So doing that was a huge step out of my comfort zone. But it was really rewarding.”

Furlong was nervous at first to tell her parents she wanted to pursue the service academy route, but she said they’ve been proud and supportive. She said she’s looking forward to the leadership opportunities and challenges at the Air Force Academy, and hopes to go to medical school after that.

“Obviously I’m going to be surrounded by people who are going to challenge me in every way, so I think it’s just keeping that mindset of wanting to be the best I can be,” she said.

Asked what advice she would give students just starting high school, she laughed about how her own senior year ended, encouraging kids to embrace the time they have in high school, “because you never know if it might get cut short.” She emphasized the big picture, and not getting caught up in little negatives.

“I would say keep your head up throughout the whole process, because I got down sometimes,” she said. “Just keep chugging away, but don’t over-stress about one test.”

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