Kenai Central High School senior Synneva Hagen-Lillevik
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Kenai Central senior Synneva Hagen-Lillevik does not know what her major in college will be yet, but she will have a bunch of recreational pursuits and hobbies to help her relax as she pursues that major.
At Kenai, in addition to being a 4.0 student, Hagen-Lillevik has found the time to excel at choir, photography, cross country running and cross-country skiing.
She said she enjoys all those pursuits immensely. At this point, though, she plans to do all of them for enjoyment and not make a career out of them.
"Synneva is gifted in many, many areas," said Renee Henderson, the choir director at Kenai Central High School. "She's an excellent student, a pretty fine musician and an excellent athlete.
"She's a pretty talented young lady."
Hagen-Lillevik also has used the study of Norwegian to open up doors for her. Her father, Jon Lillevik, is Norwegian, while her mother, JoAnn Hagen, is half Norwegian and a quarter Swedish.
In 1994, Hagen-Lillevik started attending the Norwegian Language Village near Bemidji, Minn. That village is part of the Concordia Language Villages program, which has summer camps to immerse students in various languages.
Hagen-Lillevik participated in the two-week summer program for seven years and the month-long program for three years.
She can now speak Norwegian and will spend next year at a folk school, which she describes as a combination of a college and a camp, in Norway. She will study outdoor life, which means she will do lots of skiing and camping.
"I'm a little burnt out after high school, so I'll go to folk school for a year, and I'll do college after that," Hagen-Lillevik said. "There will be plenty of time for college in my life, but I won't have any more chances to go to folk school."
Hagen-Lillevik got her start in sports thanks to the Scandanavian influence of her family. Her mother and father skied for fun when they were in college, and Hagen-Lillevik remembers strapping on a pair of boards for the first time at the age of 3.
"My whole family is from Norway and they're all into skiing," Hagen-Lillevik said. "They're into a healthy style of life. Staying in shape is a part of the culture."
Dave Feeken, the cross-country skiing coach at Kenai Central, said Hagen-Lillevik's background in skiing was apparent when she came to the team as a freshman.
"She had good balance and good technique already," Feeken said. "She was very comfortable on skis. You have to teach everybody something, but the basics were already there."
As a freshman, Hagen-Lillevik placed 12th in the Kenai Peninsula Borough race, 26th at the Region III meet and 39th overall at state.
From there, Feeken challenged Hagen-Lillevik to get stronger. That led to Hagen-Lillevik's junior year, where she had her best season of results. She was fourth at boroughs, ninth at regions and 29th at state.
She also served as a team captain her senior year.
"She worked well with the younger kids," Feeken said. "Sometimes there is a disconnect between the seniors and freshmen, but she made an effort to make sure they were involved."
Hagen-Lillevik said she enjoys snow sports so much that they will probably influence where she ends up living.
"I like skiing so much that I'll probably want to be where there is snow," she said. "I also like telemarking, and you need mountains to do that."
Hagen-Lillevik also is an accomplished cross country runner. She said her performances peaked her sophomore year, when she finished seventh at boroughs, fifth at regions and 13th at state.
After that, Hagen-Lillevik said she hit a growth spurt that slowed her down a bit. She also said she never got in as much training in the summer as she wanted because of her involvement with the Norwegian Language Village. Hagen-Lillevik also had to miss the early part of the season because she was at the language village.
"She was always joining later than the other kids, but she was such a gifted endurance athlete, she'd usually pick it right up," Kenai coach Liz Burck said. "She's also a hard worker."
Hagen-Lillevik said both Feeken and Burck are great coaches, Burck because of her incredible enthusiasm and Feeken because of his tremendous knowledge of skiing.
"I've had awesome coaches," she said. "I'd like to thank them for everything they've done for me."
Even though Henderson is an assistant track coach and Hagen-Lillevik is a talented endurance athlete, Hagen-Lillevik made her mark for Henderson in choir at Kenai and never went out for track.
Hagen-Lillevik has made all-state choir twice and also has been first chair all-state treble choir. Henderson also said Hagen-Lillevik was the only one from Alaska in the National Honor Choir is Los Angeles this year.
Henderson, who has been a friend of Hagen-Lillevik's family since 1977 and taught a young Hagen-Lillevik piano, said it's hard to put a finger on why Hagen-Lillevik is such a good singer.
"She has good genes, and we're not talking Levi's," Henderson said. "I don't know. I think it's growing up hearing a lot of good music, and she was born with a fine gift."
In addition to earning a 4.0 at Kenai Central, Hagen-Lillevik also found time to be involved with the National Honors Society, Interact and Alaska Youth for Environmental Action.
"She's an outstanding student, there's no doubt about that," said Burck, who taught Hagen-Lillevik biology for two years. "She has loads of talent."
Hagen-Lillevik will go to college at either Saint Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., or Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Wash.
"I think it's smart that she's taking the time to have a wide variety of experiences before focusing in on just one," JoAnn Hagen said. "She's got a lot of different talents. She should try them out before she gets too settled."
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