Milford's Julia Astram reigned as queen of 2016 Barnum Festival

Julia Astram, 17, is a powerhouse high school student, excelling in sports and academics while working a part time job. But she said she didn’t realize how fulfilling life could be until she was chosen and served as this year’s Barnum Festival Queen.

Julia, who will be a senior this year at Foran High School, only recently wrapped up a busy month taking part in Barnum Festival functions as the 2016 reigning queen. A lot of that was spent volunteering throughout Bridgeport and the surrounding communities, and she said it was the nearly 200 hours of volunteer service that really impacted her.

The Barnum Festival was founded in 1948 as a way to build community spirit and to honor P.T. Barnum with an annual celebration from mid-May through June. A ringmaster and royal family are chosen each year.

Four area high school juniors serve as the king, queen, prince and princess of the festival each year: This year, after applications and interviews, Barnum leaders chose Julia as queen, Michael Fedorko of Masuk High School in Monroe as king, and John Dytko of Derby High School and Kathryn Arena of Shelton High School as the prince and princess. The four were chosen from a group of 28 candidates who were nominated from the public, private and parochial schools in the Greater Bridgeport and lower Naugatuck Valley area.

“Each of these candidates are inspiring and we can look forward to hearing great things about each of them now and in the future,” said 2016 Barnum Festival Ringmaster Jason Julian in a press release issued at the start of this year’s festival.

From parades to dinners, fireworks, children’s events and nursing home visits, the Barnum Festival is full of activities in May and June, most of those taking place in June.

Julia said the experience was one she wouldn’t trade for anything.

“The festival showed me that everyone is different, and it’s okay to be different,” Julia said, noting that even though the people she met were all alike in many ways, many likely to be lifelong friends, they came from different backgrounds and cultures.

Interacting with so many people — sometimes being treated like royalty — was “a major eye opener,” she said. Her biggest insight came from the volunteer hours spent visiting and performing a routine at area nursing homes and facilities for children.

“It’s amazing to see how many people this touches,” Julia said, “to see how much joy you can bring just by being there.”

The Milford girl said she learned a lot about P.T. Barnum and his impact on Bridgeport, a piece of neighboring history that she was just vaguely aware of before.

A site about P.T. Barnum summarizes his life achievements.

“Born on July 5, 1810, in Bethel, Connecticut, P.T. Barnum became a successful promoter after moving to New York City,” the site explains. “He displayed the ‘Feejee Mermaid’ and other oddities at the Barnum American Museum, and introduced audiences to ‘General Tom Thumb’ and opera singer Jenny Lind. Barnum formed the circus that would come to be known as ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ in 1871, and died in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on April 7, 1891.”

“It was his role that opened up so many opportunities for people,” Julia said.

Julia is involved in a number of activities at her school, including Foran Innovative Thinkers and Unified Sports; she’s captain of the girls basketball and lacrosse teams, and she will be editor of the school newspaper, the Mane Street Mirror, this year.

Add to that, she’s been working part time at Jimmy’s Apizza for two years.

“I feel like if I keep busy I don’t have time to slack,” she said.

Lisa Farrell, English teacher at Foran High School and advisor for the school newspaper, said, “Julia Astram is the total package — invested in the community, studious, athletic and outgoing. She is a true leader for her peers and is confident, motivating and a hard worker.”

Daughter of Dawn and Tom Astram, Julia has a brother, Tom, 19. George Amato Jr. and Marie Amato are her grandparents.

Julia plans to be a physician's assistant, and she hopes to shadow a physician's assistant this summer.

"There are students that excel in all three areas of high school life: Athletics, academics, and community service,” said David Esposito, a coach and advisor at Foran. “What stands out about Julia is that she not only is extraordinary in all three aspects but also that in doing so she makes it look so effortless and fun. Julia always has a smile on her face, and if you ever ask anyone about Julia, the first thing they will do is smile."