Eddie Moore knows all the statistics.
The graduating senior from Haskell Indian Nations University can tell you all about the high poverty rates at the Fort Belknap Reservation in Montana, home to his Nakoda tribe. On the reservation, the high school graduation rate is about 20 percent. His mother had to drop out after having a child at age 14 — her first of six children.
Unemployment on the reservation is about 72 percent, he said.
Moore plans to buck those trends, and will become the first in his family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree today. And he’s already had success, earning an internship at Wal-Mart Stores Inc. corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Ark.
“People went,” he said. “They just haven’t been able to finish.”
His high school graduating class of 52 students was the biggest the school had ever had, he said. It’s the kind of place where you’d have to travel 80 miles to get to a McDonald’s or a Walmart.
When he first came to Haskell, he was mainly interested in the basketball program. He drove all night from Montana and then got right out of the car and started walking around the campus. He couldn’t wait to see what it looked like, having never set foot on the grounds before then.
Jim Bliven, a Haskell business management instructor, said Moore stuck out in part because of his excellent communication skills.
“When you meet him, he’s like a long-lost friend,” Bliven said. “He’s like that with everybody.”
He’s proud of Moore, he said, particularly given his background.
“He does come from a place where there’s just very little hope,” Bliven said. “In spite of that, he’s done very, very well.”
Moore said he secured the internship with Wal-Mart by making a connection with one of the interviewers. She seemed interested in his work history.
He’d already logged hours as a firefighter on his reservation, as a landscaper and as a summer custodian in a boarding school as a teenager.
“All those kids who put gum under their desks, I was the guy doing the cleaning,” Moore said.
He also did many odd jobs for farmers. That history clicked with Wal-Mart, which offered him an internship at its corporate offices. He said he made the most of the time, and met several top executives (and even struck one of them out in a company slow-pitch softball game).
Moore and two other students from Haskell were chosen to intern at Wal-Mart, and Moore said he has done some interviews for a full-time position.
“Right now, I’m trying to decide between a full-time job and attending grad school,” perhaps on the East Coast, Moore said. “That’s far away for me still.”
Far away, he said during an interview last week, because he still needed to finish out the 21 credit hours he was taking in his final semester at Haskell before graduating today.
“It’s kind of surreal to me,” he said. “I’ve got my cap and gown. I’ve got my announcements. It’ll be something very special to me and my family.”
He said his mother may not be able to attend the ceremony today, but Moore said that’s OK. She should have at least one more graduation of his to attend.
“She’s proud of me,” Moore said. “But we both know it’s only a stepping stone.