VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 117 cadets from Class 50 March 2, 2019, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Walt Mercer, chief operations officer for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, joined Mark Chicoine, director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, in congratulating the cadets on finishing the five-and-a-half-month program.
“Congratulations! We’re proud of you,” Chicoine said. “You’re alumni now and you’ll always be welcomed back.”
Then Chicoine gave them a few last tidbits of instruction.
“Lead by example. Control your attitude. Be respectful to others,” he said. “Do the right thing when no one’s looking and give it your best effort every day. Remember you represent ChalleNGe.”
Commonwealth ChalleNGe, the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, is a 17-and-a-half-month program designed to promote academics, attention to detail, time management, and leadership, while promoting self-esteem, confidence and pride.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity I was offered here,” Terrell Mackey, the guest speaker, said to the cadets. A Commonwealth ChalleNGe alumnus who went on to a career in the U.S. Navy and as a business owner, Mackey reminded the graduates that their journey has just begun.
“A lot of people don’t get a second opportunity,” he said. “I found here if I applied myself I’d accomplish things I never thought I could.”
ChalleNGe aims to intervene in the lives of 16-18 year-old teenagers by providing values, skills, education and self-discipline needed to produce responsible, productive citizens, and to do so in a highly-structured learning environment.
It includes a five-and-a-half-month residential program which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.
According to Chicoine, Class 50 has a 100% placement rate. Forty-one graduates are going on to higher education while 51 are returning to high school. As part of the credit-recovery program, Class 50 earned more than 110 credits.
Four graduates are joining the Virginia National Guard while six weren’t at the ceremony because they have already joined the military and left for basic training. Seven graduates are joining the Job Corps, four are going directly into the work force and three have joined apprentice programs.
“Congratulations! Go forth and accomplish your dreams,” Mackey said. “Do everything you ever wanted to do and don’t let anyone stop you. I look forward to seeing great things from you all.”