VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia- The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 72 cadets from Class 54 during a ceremony March 20, 2021, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Walt Mercer, the Department of Military Affairs Chief Operations Officer, joined ChalleNGe staff members in congratulating the cadets during the socially-distant ceremony, which was live streamed for family members and friends to view online.
Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, 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.
“Whether you’re here in person or virtual, it’s a great day to be here,” Williams said. “To say this year has presented some obstacles and challenges is an understatement.”
In addition to the Class 54 graduates, the ceremony also recognized the 40 cadets from Class 53. The start of Class 53 was delayed last year because of COVID-19 and the class was eventually conducted all online. As a result, the cadets of Class 53 were unable to conduct a graduation ceremony at the conclusion of their class in August 2020.
Class 54 began October 5, with two groups. While half the class attended in person, half participated virtually, through online programs. In December, following the holiday break, the groups switched statuses.
The coordination required a lot of flexibility from the cadets as well as hard work and dedication from the ChalleNGe staff.
“Cadets, I want you to give this staff a round of applause,” said Mark Chicoine, director of Commonwealth ChalleNGe, as the room erupted in cheers. “To the staff, your innovation over the past year working with Class 53 virtually and Class 54 in person has been in inspiration to me and the whole National Guard ChalleNGe community.”
“This wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t the work of the men and women who make up the ChalleNGe staff,” Williams agreed. “They worked tirelessly.”
In addition to the ChalleNGe staff, Chicoine also recognized Rebecca Moses, the state safety and compliance specialist for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, for her role in developing the reopening plan for ChalleNGe and serving as a facilitator between ChalleNGe and numerous state agencies.
To the graduates, Williams and Chicoine both encouraged them to enjoy their accomplishments and make sure they use their ChalleNGe experiences in their life.
“Congratulations on a job well done. Our thoughts and prayers are with you,” Williams told the graduates. “Go out there and make yourself known. Take what you’ve learned and make a difference in the world.”
“Cadets, you’re your perseverance and resilience throughout your experience here at Challenge has been equally inspirational,” Chicoine said. “I’m confident each of you will find the path to your success.
“When you leave here today, live your most challenging life. Lead by example. Control your attitude. Be respectful. Do the right thing when no one is looking and give it your best effort every day.
“Each one of you has earned our loyalty and respect,” Chicoine said. “Class 53 and Class 54, congratulations.”