Vanessa Clay finds peace with cats and new family


By Molly Congdon
Gazette Reporter
CLIFTON PARK — Shenendehowa senior Vanessa Clay hasn’t had it easy, but things are looking up.

She moved to Clifton Park at the start of her junior year of high school; prior to that she had lived in the Scotia-Glenville district. The transition itself wasn’t too tragic, but the back story wasn’t a happy one. “It wasn’t too scary because I already knew quite a few people from doing community theater, but I was still nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted. I thought that Shen was just full of everybody preppy, but I enjoy it much more than my old school.”

Moving to a new school halfway through one’s high school career can be difficult, but that is not the worst obstacle Clay has faced. “My parents are not my real parents, they are my foster parents,” Clay said. “I’ve been in foster care for a year and a half now.”

Krystal and Mike Lee may not be her blood relatives, but they feel like family to her.
They are currently in the process of adopting her. “I’m very excited because I need stability,” Clay said. “I’ve been in two other foster homes before this one and it was really rough. They were emotionally abusive; I kind of expected it because I’d heard several stereotypes about foster care being unpleasant.”

Instead of letting the poor treatment define her, she took it as a lesson in life. “They’ve taught me something,” she  said. “They’ve taught me to have better independence, think higher of myself and it’s made me mature a lot more than I expected it to be.”

In the fall she plans to attend Hudson Valley Community College to major in animal sciences and studies. “I want to be a veterinary assistant or to work at a foundation where I will be able to take care of big cats, like lions and tigers,” Clay said. “I’ve always had cats and I love them. I love animals in general and love to take care of them.”

The lion is her favorite animal of all. “It kind of reminds me of myself — the hair,” she said, pointing to the curly kinks atop her head. “I always found the lion to be fascinating, beautiful, majestic; it symbolizes leadership.”

Her first cat was Samson when she was in first grade. “He was completely black and then he had a white upside down triangle on his chest,” Clay said. “We didn’t have him for too long because he developed leukemia.”

In fact, it was because of this disease that he ended up attacking her, leaving behind scars. “I was getting ready to leave for school and then right when I was about to walk out the door Samson went at it,” she remembered.

Her time isn’t entirely devoted to her future career caring for animals. She is also involved in Shenendehowa’s two top choirs: The Choraliers and Mostly A Cappella, and outside of school she participates in musical theater. “I’m preparing to audition for a show as we speak,” Clay said. “It’s called ‘Godspell.’ It’s a religious show based off of the Gospel of Matthew, but also a popular musical.”

Ten years from now her dream is to have the whole package: a nice, cozy home, a few cats and dogs and a good man.

Six questions
for Vanessa Clay
Q: Who has been your greatest influence?
A: My foster mom, Krystal.
Q: What is your favorite color?
A: Purple.
Q: What’s the number one thing on your bucket list?
A: To hug a tiger or a lion.
Q: What is one of your biggest fears?
A: Finding out that someone dislikes me and I don’t dislike them.
Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: To read minds or to tell the future.
Q: What is one food that you couldn’t live without?
A: Chinese food, I love it!