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Student Profile | Debora Abate

Hot coals filled the fire pit trench in the concrete floor of the boys dorm patio. Kebabs sizzled on the grate. She looks between her African, Norwegian and American friends, effortlessly switching between languages. Debora Abate is a true testament to the power if bilinguality.

Born in Ethiopia to full-blooded Ethiopian parents, Debora considers herself Norwegian. Her father leapt at a chance to move from Africa to Norway by way of a job change. She is fluent in Norwegian, Amharic Ethiopian, and English. Amharic is an official language of Ethiopia.

Debora Abate is a planner. After forming new friendships at the patio party, Debra unveils how she thinks in the Student Union with friends bustling behind. “I like to have control, and I like to plan ahead,” she asserts, smiling. On the subject of deciding to come to Hillcrest through the partnership with the Danielsen school, she reminisced, “When I was in ninth grade I started to try to find high schools. Then, I met Robel Mazengia.”

Robel is familiar to many at Hillcrest. He attended Hillcrest as a Danielsen student a few years ago. Robel’s glowing words about Hillcrest, both before and after his experience, led Debora to plan for her own trip to the little school in Fergus Falls, Minnesota as part of the Danielsen partnership with Hillcrest.

Debora’s parents are Christian converts, but more specifically, they are Protestants. Ethiopia is primarily a nation of traditional religion, embodied by the Ethiopian Orthodox church. Alongside the Trinity, Ethiopian Orthodox teaching venerates saints, angels, and other spiritual beings. In the past, Protestants were persecuted in Ethiopia, but now conflicts have cooled, leaving two very different modes of Christian worship alongside each other. Debora’s involvement in church is growing at Hillcrest, built on practices she developed in Norway. “I went to church every Sunday. I went to youth group, I was on the worship team.”

With friends chatting at tables behind her, Debora leaned forward, resting her chin on her hand. She started contemplating her faith and how she is growing at Hillcrest. “I think I am learning to be more independent and make my own choices,” she says thoughtfully. “When I was young, when I had to go to church, I had to go to church.” Debora says she is becoming more mature spiritually at Hillcrest, working to be more intentional with her relationship with God.

In some ways, Hillcrest fits perfectly with the picture Robel gave Debora. In others, it’s very different. “The people here are more engaging than in Norway. In Norway, there’s lots of people, but they won’t talk to you if they don’t know you...nobody talks to each other on buses. I’ve made a lot of friends here, more than I thought I would.”


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Staff Appreciation | Ruth Skovholt

Students walked Hillcrest’s halls under the gloom of war. The early 1940’s brought times of uncertainty, as World War II raged in Europe. But as men died and bombs exploded in France and Germany, Hillcrest’s students carried on their lives on the Home Front, mindful of imminent conflict. As the chapel filled, classmates talked, some muttering of the war. It is warm, and the dry, dusty atmosphere created a soft, brownish light. In the midst of dark talk, one student begins to hum the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul”. A friend joins in, and then another. The students in the next pew look over and nod. They must have come from Mrs. Skovholt’s class, a class that gave students a grounding in uncertain times.

In a time full of uncertainty and confusion, there were still a few constants in school. One of these was English class. For Hillcrest’s students, English teacher Ruth Skovholt was a familiar face on campus. Some students perceived her as being strict and stern, a disciplinarian. “I never thought about her that way,” testified John Kilde, a student at Hillcrest in the early 1950’s, who gave insight into Ms. Skovholt’s teaching style.

For Hillcrest’s students in the 40’s, English class started on a worshipful note. As the boys in ties and the girls in dresses shuffled into their seats, Ms. Skovholt, back turned, wrote a verse of a hymn on the blackboard. Then, she summoned the class to their feet and led them in singing. Ms. Skovholt would choose a hymn every week, presenting a new verse each day. By the end of the week, all the students would know the hymn, and Hillcrest’s halls would fill with song.

In the memories of some, Ms. Skovholt was a disciplinarian, quick to crack down on nonsense, and a little stern. Others remember her as the teacher that came alongside and helped them when they were struggling, whether in academics or spiritually. “She was one of the biggest influences on my youth,” a former student said.

Ms. Skovholt did have her quirks. She was a very traditional woman who taught classical grammar and literature. But at the end of every school year, Ms. Skovholt would destroy all of her notes, and start fresh the next year. She constantly rethought the books, poems and essays she taught her class. Her goal was to keep from getting “stale” as a teacher.

John, who later became a Seminary Professor and a pastor, decided to follow in her footsteps, and used a lot of her methods in his own career.

John was excited John explained to me Ms. Skovholt’s love for poetry. “I remember I memorized the end of William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis,” he reminisced. “I loved Thanatopsis. I’ve quoted it myself many times since then. So when my summons comes/ To join the innumerable caravan/ Which moves…” John’s voice trailed off. “I forget,” he said bemusedly.

Though Ms. Skovholt could appear to be stern, the impact she had on her students was great, she taught them a way of life, a love for worshipping God, and an appreciation of beauty in writing that lasted, in many of these students, their whole lifetime. Others testified to her great skill and passion as a teacher, her love for hymns and poetry, her fairness and originality.

John Kilde, who was a When asked if he thought of Ms. Skovholt as a disciplinarian, John replied, “I remember I memorized the end of William Cullen Bryant’s poem Thanatopsis,” he reminisced. “I loved Thanatopsis. I’ve quoted it myself many times since then. So when my summons comes/ To join the innumerable caravan/ Which moves…” John’s voice trailed off. “I forget,” he said bemusedly.

Though Ms. Skovholt could appear to be stern, the impact she had on her students was great, she taught them a way of life, a love for worshipping God, and an appreciation of beauty in writing that lasted, in many of these students, their whole lifetime.

“So live, that when thy summons comes to join   

The innumerable caravan, which moves   

To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   

His chamber in the silent halls of death,   

Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   

Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

-William Cullen Bryant

Thanatopsis


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