VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 118 cadets from Class 51 August 24, 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.
The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided ceremonial music for the event.
John Jenkins, a senior strategic defense analyst at the Air Force Predictive Readiness Analysis Support, an Air Force veteran and father of a Class 51 cadet, was the guest speaker.
“Class 51, this is a special moment,” he said. “You accomplished a challenge, a challenge of five months. That’s two basic trainings. What a commitment, what dedication. But this is just the first accomplishment; you’ll have many more.”
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 51 had a 72% pass rate on the GED and a 100% placement rate upon graduation. As part of the credit-recovery program, Class 51 earned more than 123 credits.
In addition, four graduates completed training and certification in commercial construction skills through a partnership with Associated Builders and Contractors. For the first time, ChalleNGe partnered with Tidewater Community College and offered two college classes to Class 51 cadets who earned college credits while at ChalleNGe.
Jenkins reminded them that while graduation is an exciting time, the work doesn’t stop now.
“This is the foundation and building block of your future,” he said. “It doesn’t stop here. This is just the beginning. It’s the start of you taking ownership of your life. You must step up. It’s your time.”
Chicoine left them with a few final reminders to always follow.
“Lead by example. Respect others. Do the right thing when no ones looking. Give it your best effort every day,” he said. “Good luck, Class 51 and remember, you’re always welcome back here.”
Jenkins also provided them with some advice and guidance as they prepare for the rest of their lives.
“Be fearless and be brave as you go forth on your new journey,” he said. “Have a plan for accomplishing your dreams and your goals. Those goals and those dreams are going to lead to your destiny.”