Photo by Curtis Craig

King of hearts

From Virginia to New Delhi, what molded a beloved senior

The warm sun fell behind the walls of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. A herd of children’s shoes, kicking up dust while trampling the concrete sidewalk, raced to the center of the compound.

Among those shoes were those of Dante Donato, then in 4th grade, now a Minnehaha senior. The children circled up while waiting for the last couple friends to arrive.

They counted off, assigning someone to be ‘it’ and thus, commenced their nightly game of manhunt.
It didn’t take Donato long to fit in with the herd — one of many he’s joined in his brief, but well-traveled life.

“Within — literally I’m not even exaggerating — within 10 minutes of walking in the gate, a girl walks up to me and she’s like, ‘Oh, hey, you’re the new kid. Right?’’ said Donato. “And I’m like, ‘yeah.’ She’s like, ‘All right, let’s go! I’m gonna introduce you to everybody!’ Oh, she took me to every house that she knew had a kid in it. She was like, ‘Hey, this is Dante. He’s new.’ Within that day, I had made two good friends and we played in a box that was from the movers.”

By the age of 18, Donato has been made a true globe-trotter. Following his mother, Sabina, who worked for the U.S. government, their family of three traveled from Virginia, to Turkey, to New Mexico, and to India before settling in Minnesota.

“[Our travel] was very enriching,” said Joshua Donato, Dante Donato’s father. “We always took time to travel. We saw most of Turkey, much of Israel, many places in the Southwest United States, and much much more. Dante was always a good champ.”

Virginia to Turkey

Dante was born on March 1, 2004 in Herndon, Virginia, where he lived for three years before moving to Ankara, Turkey.

“Herndon, I remember nothing,” said Dante. “I was doing my baby stuff over there.”

Dante spent his toddler years in Ankara eating simits, visiting rug shops and drinking apple tea among his other routine toddler activities.

“It’s a small thing, but it’s something I remember the most,” said Dante. “Most of the time we needed to walk to preschool. Every morning there was this guy walking down the street carrying a board on his head. [On the board was] a mountain filled to the top with something called a simit. We got those for breakfast. It was really good.”

Although small, Dante’s fond memories exemplify his appreciation for his worldly experiences and the simple pleasures in life.

New Mexico

Dante moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, when he was six years old. There, his love for the Teriyaki Chicken House and the Boy Scouts began.

“[The Teriyaki Chicken House] was so good,” Dante raved. “I’m not exaggerating. To date, it is the best chicken I’ve ever had. I went to Philmont, New Mexico, this summer and I called the place to see if they could ship some [to me]. They said no.”

Dante joined the Cub Scouts, a branch of the Boy Scouts of America program. The Cub Scouts consisted of pack meetings and campouts. His passion for the program, which was soon instilled in his six-year-old self, would bloom with him as he grew up.

India

Dante moved to New Delhi, India, when he was nine years old. He lived in the American Embassy Compound and attended the American Embassy School.

“Living on the American Embassy Compound in India [has been the most impactful on him],” said Joshua. “We usually tried to live in the cities we served in. In India we decided Dante running free was worth the sacrifice. Sure enough, 30 seconds in our front door, a bright-eyed young lady showed up asking if there was a kid with us. Then, they went running out the door and became fast friends. Dante would often play late into the evening with his friends.”

With nightly games of manhunt, dear friends and a colorful culture surrounding him, Dante fostered a deep love for his time at the Compound.

“I loved the Compound,” said Dante. “[It] was awesome. We played a game called manhunt every night. We’d gather 30 kids together and all stand in the middle of the Compound. Two people were designated to be ‘it’. We had 60 seconds to go anywhere we wanted that wasn’t inside somewhere. I found some good hiding places and I was becoming a really fast runner, too. I was on this wall to hide from [whoever was ‘it’] and there were these guards outside looking at me like, ‘is he supposed to be there?’ It was such an awesome game.”

During non-manhunt hours, Dante attended school, Cub scout meetings and explored the country.

“In India we took a four-day drive into the Himalayas,” said Joshua. “We climbed up to about 12,000 feet. Dante led the way, even though he was only 10. He could have run laps around us.”

Dante’s enlivening spirit fueled his adventures. His time in New Delhi offered genuine friendship, riveting experiences in a new culture, and unforgettable memories.

Minnesota

After serving in India for three years, the Donato family moved to St. Paul, Minnesota. Dante attended the Avalon School in St. Paul from 6th grade to 8th grade.

Avalon was connected to Joshua’s workplace. Dante quickly became known by his father’s co-workers for being cheerful, helpful and well-mannered.

“He would show up early and make the whole office coffee, and in the afternoon he would do the dishes,” Joshua said. “Dante was always very polite. He wanted to be kind from a young age. He made good friends quickly and was quick to give himself to his friends.”

Singing among the stars

Dante joined the North Star Boys’ Choir in 6th grade.

“I wasn’t all for it at first,” said Dante. “My mom was the one who made me do it. She was like ‘yeah, you have a nice voice. You should join.”

Dante’s love for singing soon took off.

“It’s a good feeling when you sing,” said Dante. “When you’re able to recite it and recite it nicely. It’s a good feeling.”

The program is conducted by Francis Stockwell, the Artistic Director of the North Star Boy’s Choir.

“The conductor, Francis, he embodies the knowledge that singing isn’t just the vocal cords,” said Dante. “It’s like if you’re playing a guitar you don’t just use the strings, you use the wood around it too. Every part of the body is used for singing. That’s what makes him so good.”

Dante makes sure to implement Stockwell’s techniques, which is evident in his performance.

“[Dante is a] very reliable [singer],” said Stockwell. “He works hard, has a good ear, a pleasing voice and always gives of his best.”

Dante has toured numerous countries with the choir such as Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and France. In France, they performed a joint concert with Les Petits Chanteurs de Saint-Marc (The Little Singers of Saint Marc).

With a barber-shop opening number, they won a choral competition on a cruise ship in Florida in 2018.

“I have watched Dante grow in confidence, socially and in maturity,” said Stockwell. “From a rather timid boy he has grown to be an enthusiastic participant who contributes fully to the choir program, is always willing to help, and loves to be with people. He has a very engaging personality.”

A soaring scout

Dante’s passion extends beyond choir, into his education and the Boy Scouts program.

Dante enrolled at Minnehaha Academy in ninth grade. Throughout his four years he has particularly enjoyed intellectually engaging classes such as chemistry, the men’s choir and the nordic ski team.

On September 24, 2022, Dante was crowned Minnehaha’s Homecoming King alongside Homecoming Queen Tiffany Simba.

“It was definitely a highlight,” said Joshua.

During these years, his zeal for the Boy Scouts program truly blossomed. Once a mere Cub Scout, he now aims to reach Eagle Scout rank.

The Eagle scout service project is the main requirement to attain Eagle Scout rank. The goal of the project is to produce something new that will benefit a community.

After a long period of brainstorming and planning, Dante decided to build picnic tables for the Minnehaha science patio.

A critical component of the project is practicing leadership skills. Volunteers from school and his troop, including Josh St. Andrew, Evan Taylor, and Isaac Kostecky, helped Dante build the four wooden tables.

“Building the picnic tables was a great experience,” said Kostecky. “The day I helped with the building, Dante’s Boy Scout troop was also at his house helping with the project. They all seemed to be more than happy to lend Dante a hand. As a leader, he was great. Managing a group of high school boys is no easy task, but he was quick to show us how it’s done and slow to anger when mistakes were made. He also made sure to work alongside us when we needed the help.”

Dante’s dedication for travel, singing, and the Boy Scouts, has molded him into a well rounded, driven worker. Since he was four  years old, he has hoped to go into the aviation industry and travel the world.

“I was taking a flight when I was four and was looking at the wings,” said Dante. “I was like, ‘it’d be awesome to fly one of these things.’ I never really waived from the industry. I am really passionate about it.I absolutely love the thought of flying in a 150-ton hunk of metal, 700 miles an hour.”

King Dante

Dante’s collection of worldly experiences has guided him with knowledge not many can acquire in the first 18 years of their life.

“Dante is honest, caring, giving, and driven,” said Joshua. “He knows what he wants and is willing to work years to get there.”

Dante is beloved by not only his friends and family, but his community as well.

“Dante is by far the kindest and most polite person I will probably ever meet,” said Kostecky. “What impresses me the most is how he can pick up a conversation with anyone at any time. I’ve seen it time and time again. Dante’s ability to speak with anyone is a skill I find to be uniquely his. He’s a trusting individual with a good head on his shoulders, always looking towards his goals. … I don’t believe there will ever be another person quite like Dante and I wish to remain his lifelong friend.”

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About Ann Oakman

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