A decade ago, Robinson Moore didn't have a future, or at least not one he cared about. The Rutherfordton, N.C.-native barely graduated from R. S. Central High School in 2005 and assumed he would wind up working at a mill near his childhood home.
But then Moore found something to care about. He joined the Marine Corps and, within a few short years, Moore was patrolling the streets of western Iraq. After seven months in combat in 2007, Moore volunteered to return for seven more in 2008.
Now, living in Duncan, Moore graduated from Spartanburg Community College on Thursday alongside about 375 other students at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. This fall, he starts classes at the University of Georgia, where he'll major in broadcast journalism.
"I never in a million years thought I would be able to graduate college," Moore said from the dining room table in his apartment as his stepdaughter watched cartoons. "I wouldn't say I was the worst student in high school, but I had the worst outlook in life. It was my world and everyone else was just living in it."
Moore's journey from the rural foothills of North Carolina to Athens, Ga., wasn't a straight path. In 2007, while serving in Al Qa'im, Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, he told a Marine Corps journalist that he planned to make a career out of the military.
But by January 2010, then-Cpl. Moore was leaving the service behind.
Moore said he saw too much pain. He recalled the Marines who died overseas and their families back home.
"We lost 14 guys," Moore said of his roughly 800-man battalion based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "I just didn't want to be one of those statistics."
A little more than five years ago, Moore was sleeping with a loaded gun or riding in the back of an armored vehicle, his eyes trained on his surroundings and his hands on a .50 caliber machine gun.
The last few years, though, have been spent juggling work with classes and family. "I spent a lot of nights tired," he said, glancing over to his stepdaughter. "In the day, you work or go to school. Then you come home and build princess castles. You try not to miss those little moments. You sacrifice sleep for study."
At first, school was a culture shock, Moore said.
Most of his classmates were fresh out of high school. Moore, 29, was older and had a far different set of experiences.
"It was kind of rough to adjust," he said. "At first, it was really hard. I've seen half the world, and you guys just graduated high school."
Undoubtedly, his military service came up in class, usually when professors would have students introduce themselves and tell the class something about themselves.
"They see you in a different light," Moore said of his fellow students. "Some positive, some negative. Some thank you. Some ask a lot of questions. And some things you just don't want to replay."
Moore seems genuinely surprised by his success at Spartanburg Community College, adding that it's hard for some in his hometown to believe, too.
Some of the credit for the turnaround goes to the Marines, he said. But more goes to his parents, who often worked long hours to support him and his sister.
"The Marine Corps — they taught me how to react instead of think. In high school, I thought too much," Moore said. "My parents — I credit them for never giving up on me."
"My father, he said, ‘No matter what you do, somebody somewhere is working twice as hard,'" Moore said. "I remember that."
At Spartanburg Community College, Moore was a charter member of the school's honor society, Phi Theta Kappa, and served as both vice president and president of the group. Now, the admitted one-time neighborhood troublemaker is going to one of the best journalism schools in the nation with the hopes of becoming an investigative sports reporter.
"It's just crazy. I still can't believe it," he said. "I feel like I can accomplish so much more."