LEADING WITH KINDNESS AND COMPASSION
To say Grace Ujifusa has a big heart is an understatement.
When she was 5 years old, her mother Kim noticed she was lethargic, pale, and not her spunky self. Grace was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. She endured hair loss, countless spinal taps, chemotherapy, medications, and endless hospital stays as a toddler. By the time she was 10 years old, Grace was considered cured. However, life can be cruel.
At the start of her senior year at Clackamas High School, Ujifusa felt a lump on her neck. Her fears were confirmed after a doctor’s visit: thyroid cancer.
“There was so much trauma attached to my childhood cancer that made this diagnosis feel awful,” Ujifusa explained. “I attached all those fears from when I was younger. It was hard to cope with at first, but I am working to get healthy. After my thyroidectomy, doctors hope that I will be cancer free and continued to monitor me carefully. I was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. It has been difficult to cope with constant pain and fatigue, but I am trying to just enjoy the last few months of high school and stay positive.”
A 4.0 student, Ujifusa has a full plate with studies, family life, school responsibilities, and just being a kid. As student body president, she has brought back a level of school spirit unseen in recent years. But all her obligations can take their toll, leaving Ujifusa feeling tired.
“I plan and oversee things as president, and I have speaking engagements. I’m also preparing my graduation speech.
It’s both exciting and overwhelming. I rely on social a lot because I enjoy being social, like going to games, being with my friends and feeling their support,” she said. “I love meeting people from other schools or in different grades. It’s fun. Now that we are out of the pandemic, I appreciate all the social opportunities. It makes school fun! When kids feel that spirit, it’s easier to integrate — especially our freshmen who are new to the school, and they can feel comfortable being a part of the school.”
Ujifusa was named one of the homecoming queens and laughed, remembering she didn’t tell her parents — they found out at the Cavaliers football game.
Through it all, Ujifusa keeps her focus by drawing strength from her Christian faith while seeking opportunities to help others. She is continuing the philanthropic endeavors she started when she was younger. At age 8, Ujifusa raised more than $8,000 for Doernbecher Children’s Hospital’s pediatric cancer program, and for the last six years, she has recruited family and friends to help make tie blankets for children fighting cancer.
“My faith is concrete, and it is something I rely on bringing my family closer together. As a senior, lots of my friends are all going off in different directions now and my faith is something to rely on, rather than fleeting,” Ujifusa explained. “Every Christmas, I get my friends and family together and we make tie blankets.
Last year we made 60 together while watching ‘Star Wars’ at my home. Some years we make more but over the years we have made 300 blankets which we deliver to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital and an undisclosed shelter for trafficking victims. We hope that the blankets cheer their spirits and bring them comfort. Making them brings all the people I love together, and I want to continue the tradition.”
With her health a consideration, Ujifusa plans on attending a university on the west coast (though she is waitlisted at New York University), majoring in history and astronomy. When she received the news of being named Pamplin’s Happy Valley Amazing Kid, she said she felt “honored and grateful. I was so surprised and feel flattered.”
Ujifusa finds comfort in cleaning, organizing, and decorating but discovers music calms her amid her worries. She loves listening to acoustical Amy Winehouse on an old blue Victrola and exploring all musical genres.
“I come back at the end of the day and play classical piano. It is serene for me and gives me a moment to get out of my headspace. For kids with hardship or worries, like a cancer diagnosis, I would encourage them to find something that is meaningful. It can be writing or art, whatever calms them and takes them away from what weighs on them,” she said. “And stay social. I’ve relied on my friends, and their friendships keep me happy.”