These kids are incredible. They are the future and because of that, we couldn’t be more excited for our world.
Here is a little sneak peak at the wonderful portrait sessions donated by Tiffany Photography and David Clumpner Photography ( and a couple from the wonderful Helen Rolston-Clemmer!) to commemorate this occasion. The captions below are part of a mini-interview we had with each student to record the thoughts of the moment and share the voices of refugee youth in our community.
Rachelle enjoyed her senior year of high school in the US. She felt so supported by her teachers- especially Aria Peters and Ms. Little. While she thought that navigating the English language was challenging at times, she loved that she could study and excel during French class. She enjoyed meeting new people and friends, especially her friend Malia who has been kind and helpful as she learned the ropes in her new school.
The youngest of her 4 other siblings who are all high school graduates, she has found motivation in looking at her family and all they have accomplished. Her mom is her hero and she admires her strength and love for her family. Immediately following graduation, she would like to work to save money, but dreams of going to college to become a nurse.
“Keep up with your home work. Work hard. High school is fun, but it is not easy. Don’t sleep too late!” All good advice 😉
Hagos is a quiet, thoughtful, and kind young man. When asked about his favorite memories, he talks about the guidance of his gym teacher, Mr. Slemberger, the kindness of the woman serving him lunch that said hello to him by name every day, studying with volunteers at Soft Landing, and, of course, his friendship with the boisterous and fun loving fellow graduate, Janvier.
From a big family, Hagos is always looking out for others. He experienced many differences between school in his native country of Eritrea and the US. The language was the obvious one, and he found this the hardest part. But he also saw stark differences in the severity of treatment of students in Eritrea and the freedoms that are enjoyed in America. With a love of music, religion, and family, he has dreams of one day returning to Ethiopia to help his fellow Eritreans.
“He is like my brother.” From the moment that Janvier and Hagos met, they have been the best of buds. Quiet curiosity meets outgoing and playful. Finding camaraderie not only in shared struggles with language and navigating a new town, new school, and new culture, these two also share a love of music and soccer. Their’s will be a friendship to last a lifetime.
With his infectious smile and trickster ways, you might not first know that Janvier is one of the most hard working and generous young men out there. Case in point, if you ask him where he will be in 10 years, he replies, “Retired!”, but spend any time around him and you soon find this out- he is a good one. Janvier picked up English quickly but he most enjoyed math in school. He played on the Hellgate soccer team and remembers this as the most fun he had in high school.
Not only navigating finishing up school virtually due to COVID-19, he also worked two jobs to help support his mom and sister, and of course, pay for his car which he counts as the biggest difference between student in Africa and students in America. Well, that and the super nice teachers here- especially Aria Peters, his English teacher 😉
A little sibling rivalry is never bad when it comes to graduating high school (Sifa, his sister will graduate next year!). Janvier gets serious when asked about his advice for younger students, “Work hard and don’t give up. Save your money and don’t waste it. Be nice.” And even more serious when asked about what adults should do to support students, “ Keep helping others. Keep going.”
Doing this together… a couple more photos of love, family, and friendship.
Congrats to all of the graduates and their families. There was also a wonderful article in the Missoulian highlighting these awesome students!