Langdon student Claire Hiltner graduates with associate degree before graduating – Grand Forks Herald

LANGDON, ND — As Claire Hiltner walks across the podium at Lake Region State College on Friday, May 13, it will be the first of her two graduations this spring.

Hiltner, who will graduate from Langdon Area High School in late May, will be the first student to graduate from high school with an associate degree from LRSC.

Though she has two different caps and gowns hanging in her bedroom, she says it doesn’t really feel like she’ll be graduating high school by the end of the month — and have a college degree in science.

“I don’t think it will hit me until I walk across that podium, but it was an honor and a blessing to be able to do this,” she said.

A self-confessed learning enthusiast, Hiltner initially began taking online classes at LRSC, not to earn a degree, but to challenge himself. She said she tended to get bored in art and food science classes, and started high school with advanced high school classes. College classes were the next challenge.

One of the first advanced high school classes she took was an introductory nursing course.

“I really liked that, and that’s kind of where my medical fun started,” she said.

From then on, Hiltner’s interest in the medical sciences grew. Before Christmas, she asked for a book on neuroscience. She made and labeled anatomical diagrams of Styrofoam and one day drew a large anatomical heart on the wall of her bedroom with a permanent marker.

“Her father and I died about when we saw it, but you know what? We let her be a little creative with it,” says Claire’s mother Melissa Hiltner. “She didn’t get in trouble even though we wanted to yell at her, and that heart hung on her wall for a long time.”

“Even as a 14-year-old I knew that if I wanted to do this, I had to be familiar with the major organs,” Claire said.

With her growing love of medicine in mind, Hiltner began researching the classes freshmen usually take, hoping to get a few generals out of the way before they head off to college. The summer before her junior year of high school, she and her LRSC advisor, Dan Driessen, assistant vice president of student affairs, looked at the college credits she’d earned so far. They realized that with some extra classes over the summer, Hiltner could graduate with an associate degree at the same time she graduated from high school.

At LRSC, an associate degree is 60 credits. Driessen said other high school students have nearly graduated 40 to 50 credits, but neither he nor LRSC president Doug Darling can recall a high school student earning an associate degree.

Driessen said it was a great experience helping Hiltner achieve this goal.

“We’re in education to work with students, and so when you get to see this and you can map this and you can see the end result, I think that’s the reward,” he said.

Between high school and college, Hiltner also works as an EMT for Langdon Ambulance and a licensed nursing assistant at Langdon Prairie Health. She started working on the ambulance in January 2021, and during her first few phone calls, she said she knew that taking medication was the way to go.

Hiltner recounted one of the first phone calls she was on. The call was for cardiac arrest and the paramedics did everything they could to resuscitate the patient. In the emergency room, the patient briefly received a pulse, but later died. Hiltner said that patient died at the hospital by paramedics with family rather than alone.

“That opportunity really solidified it for me because this job is about helping people and that’s what I love and that’s what my end goal in life is,” she said.

Claire’s focus on academics and medicine was not what Melissa had initially envisioned for her daughter. She hoped Claire would be involved in extracurricular activities like sports or music, but those things never stuck. Dreaming of being a medical professional did.

“I had my own vision and dreams for her, as we have for our children, of what I thought she should be doing or going to do,” Melissa said. “It’s hard as a parent to let that go, but I had to learn to let go and just let her follow her dreams.”

Claire plans to study medical laboratory science at UND in the fall. With her associate degree, she started working as a junior at UND. She also hopes to receive her paramedic license so that she can work as a paramedic between undergraduate classes and medical school. Ultimately, she plans to attend emergency medicine medical school.

“I love helping people and staying calm in the storm and being there for someone,” she said. “That’s what medicine is all about.”

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