Clara Johansen

Clara Johansen

2021 Amazing Kids - The Times - Tualatin
Age: 18
School: Tualatin High School
Hometown: Tualatin, Or
Why she is Amazing: Johansen has overcome vision impairment to succeed as a musician, speaker and fundraiser.

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The fact that Clara Johansen has had to deal with severe vision impairment her entire life has never held her back.

In fact, she has risen above the obstacles life has thrown at her.

Born with Leber’s congenital amaurosis, the Tualatin High School senior maintains a 3.93 grade point average, heads up several school clubs and is an accomplished musician.

“There have been challenges,” Johansen admits. “Obviously, I can’t drive.”

But she can play the piano and has done so since she was in the fourth grade.

She enjoys playing cover songs of such stars as Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift, often performing live concerts on Facebook and Instagram where listeners put in requests and she tries to make them happen on the spot. “I know how to read music, but physically I can’t site-read so I learn everything by ear and memorization,” she said. “I definitely think that my vision impairment has helped me learn music by ear because a lot of sighted people — and this is by no fault of their own — they’re just so used to looking for things that when they go to learn how to read music, they don’t even think to try to listen to the notes.”

Johansen has performed fundraisers for Packed with Pride, a non-profit organization that provides food boxes for families who are in need in the Tigard-Tualatin School District, and played to bring attention to social justice issues as well.

“It was sometime last summer at kind of the height of the Black Lives Matter protests, I dedicated one of the concerts to playing all songs by artists of color and donating money to three different charities that help those organizations,” Johansen said.

At the same time, she’s heavily involved with extracurricular activities. She is president of both Tualatin High School’s Speech and Debate Club as well as the Future Business Leaders of America, having collected accolades from both student organizations over the years.

 

“I’m currently finishing up a radio-commentary speech for districts for speech and debate,” she said, adding that she recently recorded two videos, one an impromptu speech and the other a job interview speech for FBLA state competition.

“It’s really fun. I enjoy public speaking,” she said.

In a normal year with no pandemic, FBLA focuses heavily on community service, Johansen said.

“We do a lot of work with the March of Dimes and do a major Thanksgiving basket food drive for 10 to 12 low-income families at Tualatin High School who don’t have the ability to get food for Thanksgiving,” she said. Johansen said her favorite subjects in high school have changed over the years.

“I enjoy the writing aspect of English, but as far as electives go, I’ve really enjoyed things like personal finance and anything business related as well as culinary,” she said. “I took all the culinary classes I could at Tualatin.”

In the fall, Johansen heads to Linfield University where she plans on studying business and communications. Ten years from now, she said she hopes to be working somewhere she can use her public speaking abilities, perhaps as a motivational speaker, in public relations or possibly as a spokesperson for a major company. If she has a philosophy she would share with new high school students, it would simply be not to become involved in the drama of day-to-day high school encounters “because it won’t affect you in your adult years.”

Johansen’s can-do attitude is reflected daily and she admits to being extremely driven.

“When people say, ‘Oh, I don’t think you can do this,’ I don’t like that. I think that that is absolute crap,” Johansen said. “No matter what kind of accommodations you need, there’s always a way you can do something and especially being someone in the disabled community … One of the reasons I’m as driven and have as many accolades as I do is that I’ve heard that a lot and I have used it to better myself instead of letting it drag me down.”