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NEWS | March 16, 2022

Class 56 graduates from Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy

By A.J. Coyne | Virginia National Guard Public Affairs

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy conducted a graduation ceremony for the cadets of Class 56 March 5, 2022, 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 44 cadets on their graduation. 

“Your accomplishments are truly incredible,” Williams said. “The fact that you’re here today, that you’re graduating, going back home, back to your families, back to your education, back to a career, starting your life…it’s an exciting time.”

“You’ve all become leaders so lead by example,” Chicoine told them. “Respect others. Do the right thing when no one is looking. And give your best effort every day.”
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. 

“What you represent today is hope for America,” Williams said. “You’re going to make a difference. We’re incredibly proud of you. We want you to succeed because we need you to succeed.”

“The future sits right here,” Chicoine added. “It’s not a pretty world right now but I have confidence in you to lead us through. It gives me hope.”
Cadet Jesslyn Hinojosa, the Class 56 Student Council Association president, addressed her fellow graduates in an emotional speech. 

“With a variety of backgrounds, we all came to ChalleNGE to learn what we needed to know,” she said to her fellow graduates. “We are now returning to an unfiltered reality in which some people may not have the support physically available. But guess what? You have us, your fellow cadets and even the staff. Just because we are physical separated from them doesn’t mean we can’t disturb them from afar.”

Hinojosa also addressed the ChalleNGe staff.

“Thank you for watching us cadets grow into who we are now,” she said. “Thank you for surrounding us with people who inspire and push us into the right direction. “
Williams also recognized Commonwealth ChalleNGe staff members and cadre on hand for the ceremony. 

“All this doesn’t happen without a lot of work behind the scenes,” Williams told them. “To our faculty and staff, it’s not lost on anyone here that you’re the driving force behind these kids. We can’t say thank you enough for what you do.” 

“Your dedication is an inspiration to me every day,” Chicoine told his staff members. “The result of your hard work and effort is sitting before you. Thank you very much for your teamwork and the effort you give our cadets every way.”

For information about ChalleNGe, please visit

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