‘I didn’t give up’

Disability doesn't deter student from community involvement

Clair Jansma will attend Grand Valley State University to study music education

Soaring above challenges has been a theme Clair Jansma has embraced.

In a winning essay that earned a Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizen award, she wrote “Some people, when life throws them a challenge, panic. They buckle under pressure and they give up a few things. I think that was one of the most important things that I did in my freshman and sophomore years — I didn’t give up.”

Clair was diagnosed when she was a year old with hemiplegic cerebral palsy, which results from damage to the part of the brain that controls muscle movements and made the left side of her body weak. While facing years of physical therapy and surgeries, Clair remained heavily involved with her school community.

“I knew going into high school that I wanted to make a name for myself,” Clair said. “I did what I wanted, and I wouldn’t take no for an answer. The cerebral palsy did not motivate me to do all of the things I did. In the end, it’s just kind of a cherry on top. I did everything because I wanted to.”

Drive for Success

Clair plays golf on the varsity team, is a drum major in marching band, plays in the jazz and symphonic bands, a member of Odyssey of the Mind and National Honor Society, vice president of student council, involved in the school theater program and a part of the Teens Against Tobacco Use program.

During Clair’s freshman year, she did everything normally but said she found she was facing a lot of pain. She started to use a cart sophomore year to get around at golf matches, which helped. She also tried out to be drum major her junior year, as they march less than other band members.

“Cerebral palsy, in a way, gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have taken if it wasn’t for the physical challenges I was undergoing,” she said.

Her drive for success also stemmed from examples set by her family, she said. With a lot of older cousins to look up to, Clair decided early on that she didn’t want to look back at high school with any regrets.

“Growing up, I always heard from them to be involved so that I had the best experience possible in high school,” she said. “I enjoy putting my best foot forward so the people coming after me can see how much I did and feel inspired to do the same.”

Most recently, Clair was named one of nine local chapter winners in the National DAR Good Citizens Award. Turns out, someone else in her family was the first for that achievement.

“It was an honor to be recognized by the Daughters of the American Revolution, and that I could follow in my mother’s footsteps by winning an award she also won in high school,” Clair said.

Clair Jansma recently submitted a winning essay for the Daughters of the American Revolution Good Citizens Award

What it Means to be a Leader

For Clair, being a student leader was fostered by the sense of community at Thornapple Kellogg. 

“TK will always have a special place in my heart,” she said. “I will continue to give back to whatever community I end up in because of what I learned in Middleville.” 

She and her twin brother, Nathan, “are not involved in the same things, (but) we have been raised to give back to the community,” Clair said. “Some kids will never be that involved in high school. I am just glad that Nate and I were able to take advantage of the time we had.”

Clair plans to attend Grand Valley State University next year to study music education. She said she hopes her high school experience inspires others to take advantage of their time there.

“To other students who are struggling, try to not let what you are struggling with become an excuse,” she said. “If a challenge becomes an excuse, it’s much harder to overcome and you sacrifice opportunities. You can do anything that the ‘normal kids’ are doing if you have the right mindset.”

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Hannah Lentz
A 2017 graduate of Grand Valley State University and a lifelong teacher’s kid, Hannah Lentz has worked as a journalist in and outside the Grand Rapids area for more than five years. After serving as editor-in-chief at the GVSU student newspaper, Hannah interned at the Leelanau Enterprise where she learned a lot about community journalism. In addition to her work for School News Network, Hannah has worked as a freelance blogger in the furniture industry, focusing on design trends, and as a social media manager for World Medical Relief in Detroit. Read Hannah's full bio or email Hannah.

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