VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 59 cadets from Class 55 during a ceremony Aug. 21, 2021, at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, and retired Brig Gen. Walt Mercer, the Department of Military Affairs Chief Operations Officer, joined retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, the Commonwealth ChalleNGe director, and 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.
To graduate from the Academy, the cadets must successfully complete eight core components of the ChalleNGe program: academic excellence, life coping skills, job skills, health and hygiene, responsible citizenship, service to the community, leadership/followership and physical fitness. These components are designed to educate and produce youth that will become productive members of their community after graduation.
The Student Council Association president of the graduating class gave a speech welcoming the guests and reminding his peers to take life one step at a time and learn from their mistakes.
“Don’t be afraid to dream big, remember dreams without goals are just dreams and can often leave you with disappointment,” said Cadet Christian C. Cooper. “So, have goals, but have life goals, monthly goals, yearly goals, and to achieve these goals, you must apply discipline.”
Cooper continued his speech expressing the bonds that the cadets formed over months.
"Being at ChalleNGe has created a brotherhood and sisterhood that will last a lifetime," Cooper said. "We all started at the bottom and rose to the top, together."
Following the SCA President's speech, Williams shared some thoughts with the class.
“Here you are in the middle of a pandemic, laser-focused on learning and growth," said Williams. "And you're taking all of that as you leave today to your families and communities to continue to do great things,”
Williams told the cadets to set their sights high and to go for it, that the state and nation were counting on them.
“Just know how proud all of us are, with what you have accomplished," he said. "We have high expectations for what you are going to do into the future.”
After Williams spoke, the presentation of awards for top cadets and graduation certificates were handed out. Chicoine concluded the ceremony with closing remarks, congratulating the class while thanking the guests and staff for assisting with preparations and being present on the cadets’ important day.
“Cadets, your perseverance and resilience and what you have experienced at ChalleNGe has been an inspiration to all of us,” he said. “I’m confident that each one of you will find your path to your individual success.”
Chicoine acknowledged the challenges that Covid-19 had produced and pointed out how the cadets worked through all those issues with perseverance. He concluded with some parting advice.
“Lead by example. Control your attitude,” he said. “You can’t control anyone else’s attitude, but you can control yours. Always be respectful of others the way you were here, with your brothers and sisters. Remember, to always do the right thing when no one is looking, and with your best effort."
"Effort is generally rewarded," Chicoine said. "Not always, but good effort is always rewarded.”
After the graduation, the cadets formed up outside by platoons where they were released to meet up with their families and friends waiting outside in the parking lot.