VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. –
The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 70 cadets from Class 57 Aug. 27, 2022, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Retired Brig. Gen. Walt Mercer, the Department of Military Affairs Chief Operations Officer, joined retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, the Commonwealth ChalleNGe director, and Jermaine Green, the guest speaker for the ceremony, in congratulating the cadets on their accomplishments.
Green, a graduate of Commonwealth ChalleNGe Class 5, served 12 and a half years in prison before straightening his life out. He is currently a cybersecurity professional who speaks at prisons and colleges and volunteers with young adults who are preparing for careers in coding and cybersecurity.
“This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to come back to ChalleNGe,” Green said. “This program has instilled in me elements of character development that have never been lost such as integrity, mental resilience, mental fortitude, persistence and determination.”
He reminded the graduates they can go anywhere from here as long as they make the right choices.
“Control your circle and reevaluate those who you associate with,” he said. “Don’t feel like you’ve lost anytime. You haven’t missed anything. I served 12 and a half years in the penitentiary and I didn’t miss a thing. I’ll tell you why - because I was working on myself and that time couldn’t have been better spent.
“These past five months you’ve been exactly where you should have been,” he explained.
He also spoke the families and friends in the audience.
“One of the most important things we can do as advocates for young people is help them identify and realize a good opportunity,” Green said. “And the fact good opportunities don’t come easy and don’t come often. Good opportunities must be captured.
“Every young person deserves someone who is absolutely crazy about them. Someone who is absolutely selfless about them. Someone who has their interests at heart,” he said. “Be that for them. The truth is cadets, you’re gonna need all the love you can get. Don’t be afraid to ask for help whenever it’s needed.”
It was the first graduation in three years the family members had been able to attend, Chicoine noted. He thanked the families for their support and applauded the hard work of the ChalleNGe staff.
“The staff’s inspirational leadership, being positive role models and dedication resulted in today’s graduates being able to dream, believe and achieve - the ChalleNGe motto,” Chicoine said. “Graduates, your perseverance and resilience throughout your time at ChalleNGe has been equally as inspirational. I’m confident each one of you will find your path to your own success.”
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.