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NEWS | March 8, 2023

Commonwealth ChalleNGe Class 58 graduates 72 cadets

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

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 72 cadets from Class 58 March 4, 2023, at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, retired Brig. Gen. Walt Mercer, the Department of Military Affairs Chief Operations Officer, and retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, the Commonwealth ChalleNGe director, joined Travis May, the guest speaker for the ceremony, in congratulating the cadets on their accomplishments.  

“I’m confident that each one of you will find your path to your own individual success,” Chicoine told the graduates.  

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.  

“It is my honor and my pleasure to stand before you and honor the work of these individuals,” May said. “I have had great pleasure to receive motivation from them. I was brought in to motivate them but I found myself being mentored and motivated by the spirit of these children who now are becoming young men and young women.” 

May served 25 years in prison before receiving a conditional pardon from former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe in 2018. He is currently an independent contractor providing fitness training for staff at the Northampton County Jail and serves a peer recovery specialist with “A Chance for a Change.” 

“I stand before you because I committed myself to my worth,” May said. “And the minute I committed myself to my worth, my life reflected that. I honor you today because it took me 25 years to do what y’all did in five and a half months.” 

In addition to the graduates, May also addressed the families.  

“A lot of these young men and women are returning home powerful, new yet vulnerable,” he explained. “They need the support of the home. What are you going to bring to the table? Because for five and a half months they have been in a place purifying their minds. Now they’re coming back powerful yet vulnerable and they need your support.”  

“When you leave here today and live your life post ChalleNGe, I offer a couple thoughts.” Chicoine said. “You are leaders now, so lead by example. You’re the only one who can control your as attitude. Be respectful of others. Do the right thing when no one is looking. And give your best effort every day.”  

“You will always be welcome as alumni,” he added. “Go forth and do great things, Class 58.”  

The Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band provided music for the event.  

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