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Steve Bullock presents an award to Joseph Little Eagle

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, left, presents an award to Riverside Middle School student Joseph Little Eagle as Little Eagle’s mother, Tamara Johnson, and grandmother, Janice Bellrock, look on during an assembly.

CASEY PAGE/Gazette Staff

Joseph Little Eagle, 14, hopes someday to become a graphic designer and design logos for companies — goals that begin with earning high school and possibly college diplomas.

On Thursday, the Riverside Middle School eighth-grader was honored for his work in a program designed to help him reach his goals. He was announced as one of just 31 students nationwide — and the only middle-schooler — selected to represent the one-million-students-helped milestone of a national program that helps at-risk students build the skills needed to finish high school.

“I think it’s really cool they thought of me like that,” Joseph said after a schoolwide assembly presenting him with the honor. “It’s an honor to get that award.”

He will represent Montana in the Jobs for America’s Graduates One Millionth Student initiative. The program is a national nonprofit that works with 31 states to prevent at-risk youth from dropping out of school.

According to the JAG website, its Class of 2013 saw a 91 percent graduation rate. This year, it is celebrating the enrollment of its one-millionth student.

Montana’s JAG affiliate, Jobs for Montana’s Graduates, has helped 11,000 students since it joined the program in 1990. It aims to help students stay in school, graduate and move into jobs, further their education or join the military.

Gov. Steve Bullock and JMG Director Erica Swanson presented Joseph with the award in front of hundreds of classmates, who cheered and applauded for him.

“He could’ve said the challenges were simply too hard,” Bullock said. “But instead, he said he’s greater than any obstacle.”

As part of the program, Joseph traveled to Washington, D.C., last fall to be a part of the JAG National Leadership Academy Conference, which included workshops on networking, leadership and setting a good example for other students.

“He has some wonderful adventures ahead of him, and he has the tools and people behind him,” Swanson said.

One student from each of the 31 states with a JAG program was chosen to help be the face of its one-millionth student. Through support from and work with his JMG representative VaLorie Mathison, school officials and classmates, Joseph was chosen as Montana’s representative.

“I was kind of shocked,” Joseph said of learning he’d been named as Montana’s representative.

He said his goals include graduating high school and ultimately getting into graphic design.

Bullock also noted that, as part of the national group’s face, Joseph is also nationally known now.

“Here at Riverside, you have a national rock star,” he said. “Everybody across the country knows about this guy.”

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