'Making opportunities for myself': Heartland graduate Abigail Starkenburg prepares for life on her own

After Abigail Starkenburg graduates from Heartland Christian High School on May 20, she’ll begin exploring her options in Iowa.

Abigail Starkenburg WEB.jpg
Abigail Starkenburg will graduate as part of Heartland Christian High School's class of 2022 on Friday, May 20.
Courtesy / Amelia Jo Photography
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BEMIDJI — After Abigail Starkenburg graduates from Heartland Christian High School on Friday she’ll be heading to Iowa to explore her future options.

Once the dust has settled on graduation and the fall semester arrives, Starkenburg will pursue social work and criminal justice at Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa.

“I’m excited for the new opportunity to go off to college and start painting my own path,” Starkenburg said. “But there are also feelings of nervousness that come with that because it’s life on your own.”

Starkenburg’s various connections to law enforcement informed her interest in pursuing a career that combines her fields of study. Specifically, she’s considering working in the foster care adoption system or conducting anti-human trafficking efforts.

“Living in Bemidji, I’ve seen how there can be different needs that people need met,” Starkenburg said. “Social work is also a really broad field, so mixed with criminal justice, there’s a lot I can do with it. Once I graduate, I’ll have quite a few options.”


Embracing change

Starkenburg chose Dordt University after a last-summer visit with the college’s professors convinced her that she wanted to be a part of the school’s social work program.

Prior to this decision that would come with the end of high school, she made another choice to transfer to Heartland from Bemidji High School after her sophomore year, which was the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“When we went online in the spring, the toughest part was getting into your classes and actually truly learning,” Starkenburg said of the spring 2020 semester. “I remember this one math final that was the worst thing I’ve ever done online.”

Ahead of her 2020-2021 junior year, she transferred to Heartland to dig deeper into her Christian faith and support the school while she could as a high-schooler.

“I just wanted to get involved in Christian education. During your high school years you’re forming your ideas and opinions on everything,” Starkenburg added. “For me as a Christian, Christianity is the basis of my life. Digging deeper into that was important so I could go into the world with my faith strengthened.”

COVID also didn’t have a huge effect on her time at Heartland considering its small class sizes, meaning remote learning or “shut-down” wasn’t deemed necessary like at a larger school.

Current involvement

Finding her Heartland niche, Starkenburg has kept busy not only with her regular high school classes but also doing Post-Secondary Enrollment Options classes at Oak Hills Christian College to offset some of her general education credit requirements once she begins at Dordt.

On top of this, she participated in cross-country running for the first time this year, currently acts as a teacher’s assistant for the elementary students and is a regular attendant at youth group and church activities.


During the summer she works for Nature’s Edge Garden Center and in her spare time enjoys reading, running and any outdoor activity she can take full advantage of.

“I really don’t have a lot of free time right now, though,” Starkenburg said with a laugh.

Once at Dordt, Starkenburg plans to write for the student newspaper, a side interest she hasn’t been able to explore yet.

“It’ll be interesting seeing how it’s different from normal writing for classes, but I’m excited for it,” Starkenburg added. “Heartland’s too small for something like a student newspaper, so I’m now making opportunities for myself that I would get at a bigger school.”

Looking ahead, Starkenburg is adamant about creating her own opportunities and working through adversity in all its forms.

“The idea of ‘keep on going even when it’s tough’ is what has made high school easier for me,” Starkenburg said. “That has also helped me now that I have college to look forward to and knowing I’m working for something.”

Heartland's graduation ceremony will take place at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 20.

Daltyn Lofstrom is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer focusing on education and community stories.
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