From teaching herself to read at 4 to skipping a grade in junior high, Kirstin Dunham, a Brainerd High School senior, has accomplished many academic feats.
Recently she was named a Presidential Scholar and a National Merit Scholarship finalist. She was section champion and won a spot in state competition for the Brainerd High School debate team in Lincoln-Douglas and qualified for the National Forensic League's Student Congress.
Dunham, the daughter of Pam Pruitt of Brainerd and Keith Dunham of Forest Lake, is also involved in speech, Knowledge Bowl, Student Congress, Key Club, German Club, band, tae kwon do and National Honor Society.
To add to her busy schedule, Dunham also takes seven advanced placement courses at the high school and received a score of five on all her tests. Five is the best score and will count for college credit.
"It's tough," she said of the classes. "But I do it because I've always wanted a challenge."
She said the rigor of her classes has helped her become a better writer and has made her more analytical.
Once Dunham graduates, she will be off to New Haven, Conn., to attend Yale University where she has achieved sophomore status because of her AP test scores. She chose Yale -- not Harvard or Georgetown where she also was accepted -- because Yale has always been her first choice.
"I like everything about it," said Dunham. "I personally like the location and the general feeling I get when I'm on campus. People care about you there."
Dunham never had a doubt regarding what she wants to do. Since she was a young girl she has always been interested in politics and law.
"It has always fascinated me and I wanted to be involved in it," she said. "I always have been very determined."
One activity where Dunham's determination has brought her many successes is debate. It also is her favorite activity. She has been in debate since eighth grade. She competed in 10 meets this year and made it to the elimination rounds every meet but one.
Dunham said this year debate has made her question her values more, especially since she will be on her own soon.
"I'm always thinking what should be most important," she said. "Society goals, I think, are important issues."
In debate this year, Dunham reached her goals. She wanted to be the section champion and live up to last year's champion, Manney Anderson. Her long-term goal has been to break into the elimination rounds at state, which she also accomplished. Last year, Dunham also went to state and took 11th place.
Dunham said this is the first time anyone from Brainerd has made it to the state elimination round.
And to top off Dunham's successes in her last year in debate at the high school, she qualified for nationals. She said she was shocked when she found out she qualified.
"I'm just not going to go to nationals just to be there," she said. "I will put work into it ... I have the ability to do well."
Dunham plans to stay involved in debate and/or politics in college.
From committing time to debate and her other after-school activities to keeping up with her classes to a social life to staying healthy, Dunham said it is a balancing act.
When asked if she feels overwhelmed, she said "I'm perfectly happy. It's what I want to do."
Dunham said her strongest strength in life is her initiative and determination. She sets high goals and sticks to them.
"I always want to reach my full potential," she said.
Her weakest skill is her memory. She said in school functions she is good at remembering, but when it comes to everything else in her life she completely forgets things.
With a few more months of high school left, Dunham will be eagerly anticipating a life of change. She looks forward to the new adventure of going to Yale.
"I can't wait to leave and to be surrounded by people with the same determinations and abilities," she said. "I love the city."
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