NEWMAN - Clarence Johnson III had every reason to throw in the towel and give up on his education.
Faced with a turbulent, unstable family situation which left him looking after a younger sibling, dealing with issues such as food insecurity and periodic homelessness.
But he persevered, with a helping hand from school staff and community members, and today is looking forward to his graduation from Orestimba High this spring and the opportunity to continue his education in quest of an engineering career.
Johnson was recently recognized as the Newman-Crows Landing district’s nominee for the county “Every Student Succeeding” award program, which honors students who have overcome obstacles and adversity.
Johnson acknowledged that there were times he wanted to give up, particularly at school, but the support of others kept him going despite the hardships and obstacles.
His grandmother, who passed away about three years ago, was particularly an inspiration.
“What kept me going is my grandma. Before she passed away, she told me that no matter how life knocks you down, you just keep going,” Johnson shared.
Johnson early on learned to be a parent to his younger brother and at times was left to find ways to make ends meet so he and his brother could survive, according to his nomination, but nonetheless made sure that he and his brother were up in time for school to maintain some normalcy in their lives.
He came to Orestimba as a sophomore, but during that year found himself facing homelessness once again and reached out to the Orestimba staff for emotional support. For a few days of each week, he and his family received assistance which allowed them to live out of a hotel room until the family found housing in Modesto. He finished his sophomore year at Orestimba while living in Modesto.
The summer before his junior year Johnson again experienced homelessness and moved in with a relative in Patterson. He found his way back to Orestimba early in his junior year after calling a former teacher there and explaining the situation and his desire to return to school.
But after a few months of stability, he again faced homelessness without so much as a second set of clothes to wear. He found respite from people who graciously opened their homes to him, offered food and other assistance. After about a week the Neill and Tina Newton family of Newman learned of Johnson’s plight and took him in, providing the stability and support that he needed.
He remains with the Newtons.
“I look at them as family, which they are,” he shared. The stability the family offered “made me realize that there are people out there who have a good heart and care. They are family to me.”
Among the Orestimba staff members who helped him through the tough times were his football coach and teacher Louie Dominguez and mental health clinician Kelly Gregory, Johnson said.
He remains in contact with his younger brother and mentors him.
Along his challenging journey, Johnson heeded the advice of his grandmother and kept going forward
Orestimba Principal Justin Pruett said Johnson’s perseverance and tenacity are an inspiration.
“You see students who have plenty of reason to struggle, or just be upset. Our system puts in supports to help, but that is not always accepted by the student,” Pruett commented. “What makes Clarence unique is his attitude, his acceptance of others and of his situation, knowing that those are his circumstances and not who he is.
“”It is not about the support, it is about his response to the situation that is incredible,” Pruett continued. “I like to tell kids going through tough circumstances that your start is not as important as your finish. Clarence is living that.”
Johnson and nominees from other Stanislaus County districts will be recognized during a March 10 program.
One county nominee will be selected to advance to the state-level award program.