Langdon teen graduates from college before high school

Claire Hiltner, 18, received an associate degree of science from Lake Region State College.

Claire Hiltner, 18, received an associates degree of science from Lake Region State College on Friday, May 16, 2022.
Matt Henson / WDAY News

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Claire Hiltner was all smiles for one final class picture before graduation at Lake Region State College Friday, May 16.

"(It's) unreal to finally be here today," she said.

She's graduated with an associate degree in science.

"A lot of hard work and weird to think we are finally here," she said with a laugh.

Some may wonder why this is such a huge accomplishment.


Hiltner graduated college before high school. The 18-year-old from Langdon, North Dakota, doesn't graduate from high school for another two weeks.

"Claire would be the first (high school student) to ever do an associate degree (before a high school diploma)," said Daniel Driessen, the assistant vice president of student affairs at Lake Region State College.

"I was full-time high school and full-time college student," Hiltner said. "It was challenging to find time for all of it, but we made it happen. It's all about balance, and there were hardships trying to balance it, and what activities to do when," she explained.

Hiltner is part of the duel credit program at Lake Region State College. This semester, more than 700 students were enrolled statewide. The program, which has been around since the late 1980s, has had some "high flyers" over the years with some previous high schoolers earning 40 credits, but none have ever earned all 60.

"There aren't very many options for students that want to pursue or push themselves academically, and this gives them that ability," said Driessen.

Even with two years down, Hiltner still has a lot of school left. She is enrolling as a pre-med student at the University of North Dakota. The EMT with Langdon Ambulance — Hiltner is also a certified nursing assistant at Langdon Prairie Health — plans to major in medical lab science and minor in chemistry. Then it's four years of medical school and another four years of residency with dreams of one day being an emergency doctor or cardiologist.

"You are there on the worst day of their life, and being their calm in their storm is rewarding in itself," said Hiltner.

With her name called and diploma in hand, Hiltner was all smiles as she walked across the stage, knowing she has a decade more to go before the diploma she has her eyes set on.


"Still got a ways to go, but this is the first stepping stone," she said.

She plans on having just one graduation party.

Matt Henson is an Emmy award-winning reporter/photographer/editor for WDAY. Prior to joining WDAY in 2019, Matt was the main anchor at WDAZ in Grand Forks for four years. He was born and raised in the suburbs of Philadelphia and attended college at Lyndon State College in northern Vermont, where he was recognized twice nationally, including first place, by the National Academy for Arts and Science for television production. Matt enjoys being a voice for the little guy. He focuses on crimes and courts and investigative stories. Just as often, he shares tear-jerking stories and stories of accomplishment. Matt enjoys traveling to small towns across North Dakota and Minnesota to share their stories. He can be reached at and at 610-639-9215. When he's not at work (rare) Matt resides in Moorhead and enjoys spending time with his daughter, golfing and attending Bison and Sioux games.
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