2024 Simply Amazing Teen: Keatin Hertz

May 2024

article by rebecca stewart | photos by jamie blotske

It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’ve arrived at the bustling coffee shop just up the hill from Billings Senior High School. Awaiting the arrival of this year’s Simply Amazing Teen, I wander Mazevo Coffee seeking the perfect spot for our conversation. I settled in, sipping a smoothie while reviewing my notes. I’m struck once again; this kid is impressive.  

When Keatin Hertz arrives, he assures me that it’s his study hall/lunch hour, so we’ve got plenty of time before he heads back for a full afternoon of classes. Though it’s the final semester of his senior year, he’s still taking seven AP classes while carrying a 4.7 GPA. As his Honors Chemistry teacher, Craig Beals, noted in a phone call, Keatin takes the most challenging classes, and he’s motivated to do well, adding that “he knows his goals, and he’s really worked hard to achieve that.”    

Currently tied for first in his class, Keatin is in the running for valedictorian, having been on that track “since kindergarten,” he laughs. You see, his older (by 14 years) sister was, he lists, “Valedictorian, National Merit Scholar…she was everything, and I’m kinda competing with that.” It’s clear his sister is the standard to which he holds himself. Though he refers to them as “only children,” he attributes his passion for music to her and his great-grandfather.

Of his many interests and involvements, music is Keatin’s great love and acts as a stress reliever for the busy senior. Noting that his sister “was really big into music,” he remembers going to one of her high school jazz band concerts where he pointed to the bass in the back and, at 2 years old, declared, “That’s what I want to play!” Because a toddler can’t start his musical path on an upright bass, his mom started him on violin, moving up to the cello and, finally, the coveted upright bass, to which he has been loyal ever since. Other instruments in Keatin’s repertoire, including the trumpet, carry special significance. He learned to play it and was able to tell his great-grandfather that in their last conversation before he passed. His great-grandfather first ignited Keatin’s passion for jazz.  

Active in various school bands – both in school and extracurricular – Keatin also helped found a jazz trio his sophomore year. The group, Kickstand: The Tricycle Trio, is still going strong, though college will certainly force an interlude, especially as Keatin heads to Purdue University in July. While the trio plays about two gigs a month during the school year, primarily private events and fundraisers, you can also find them playing at Craft Local.  

Though Keatin earns money gigging during the school year, he says that his main “job” is high school, an outlook he says his mom has encouraged. When he gets home – not just from school – golf in the fall, tennis in the spring (team captain and State qualifier for both), and as much skiing as humanly possible in the winter – “it’s homework and a little bit of music and scholarships.” Keatin draws a direct line from his work in school – getting straight A’s and taking the tough classes and building in time to apply for scholarships – to earning that merit scholarship at Purdue. An eager and in-depth student, he reflects, "Learning isn’t about getting the A; it’s about going above and beyond and learning the subject.” A lesson he attributes to Physics teacher T.J. Umemoto and the aforementioned Mr. Beals.   

But it’s not just school, music, and sports that make Keatin remarkable. His list of accolades is simply too long to list here. An Eagle Scout since 13 and active in student government in high school, volunteering has been and is a key component of who he is in the world. Yet, he recalls it’s something his family instilled early on. He says his dad is a “super friendly” guy who is and will encounter someone in a store, and “now, these guys are friends.” (A trait, it would seem, that he shares, according to his teachers.)  

Meanwhile, he proudly shares, his mom and sister have always both been active volunteers, with Keatin “tagging along.” He fondly recalls driving his mom around during the summer of 2020, delivering lunches for Project Love. Food insecurity would prove to be an area of importance to him, as he reflects on how meaningful it’s been to help stock the food pantry at Senior High. He appreciates that this is an area that directly impacts fellow students, and it’s also sparked the realization that he truly appreciates the volunteer opportunities in his life. Over the last couple of years, he agrees, volunteering shifted from a little bit of a ‘have to,’ to a ‘get to.’ He especially enjoys taking every opportunity that presents itself to volunteer at St. John’s. “I LOVE” going to St. Johns,” he emphasizes. In fact, his Platinum Project at school was Mental Health Benefits of Music in Elderly Individuals. It’s not just the music, though, he treasures hearing the residents’ stories. 

When asked which of his awards stands out the most, he easily points to being named 2023 Eagle Scout of the Year. But before we talk about the award, we must acknowledge the age at which he earned the Eagle. Keatin shares that his mom encouraged him to tackle the task sooner than later because, as she wisely forecasted, life would only get busier for the teen. Not only was that a driving force, but he says that, in Scouting, he noticed a divide between the younger and older Scouts, and being a leader at heart, he wanted the opportunity to be a trusted voice, a force for change. He shares, “I earned my Eagle, was able to become Senior Patrol Leader…I started running meetings, and would partner up older kids with younger kids,” allowing the pairs to work together on requirements.  

Becoming Eagle Scout of the Year took persistence. Keatin first applied for it at 16 but didn’t get it. He observed that recipient’s efforts, learned what he needed to do, and applied again the following year. He credits receiving this honor with a determination to uphold the Scouting values and to be a person who is “super involved and helping out their community.”   

Throughout our conversation, it became clear that while Keatin might be blazing a trail for himself, it’s often with the desire to give back to those coming along behind him – in Scouts, at school, in music. Though, in fairness, the primary reason he wanted to be team captain of the tennis team, he shares with a cheeky smile, was to have a say in the snacks.  

The road to Purdue and beyond… 

Keatin's other great passion

As with his interest in music, so too came an early resolve to earn his own pilot wings. He recalls going to the cockpit and receiving his first pair of souvenir wings at age 5. They were metal back then, and he remembers thinking, “This is what I want to do. I want to earn a pair of these, actually .” Oodles of wings later, his love for flying and travel hasn’t waned, and Purdue ended up offering everything he hoped for in college. Both practical and enthusiastic as he looks to the future, with his work ethic and determination, there seems to be no doubt that Keatin Hertz will accomplish everything he sets his mind to.   

Originally printed in the May 2024 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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