Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 102 during June commencement ceremony in Va. Beach

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 102 cadets during a commencement ceremony for Class 38 June 22, 2013, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell was the guest speaker for the event. The graduates now move on to a 12-month post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 102 cadets during a commencement ceremony for Class 38 June 22, 2013, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell was the guest speaker for the event. The graduates now move on to a 12-month post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 102 cadets during a commencement ceremony for Class 38 June 22, 2013, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Virginia Rep. Scott Rigell was the guest speaker for the event. Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, Virginia National Guard Director of Interagency Operations, and Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, were all on hand to represent the Virginia National Guard and recognize the graduates after the completion of the 22-week quasi-military residential phase of the program.

The ceremony marked the final graduating class for retired Col. Jimmy J. Chandler, Director of ChalleNGe. Chandler is retiring later this summer and received the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit as recognition for his hard work and dedication while leading the ChalleNGe program.

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, Virginia National Guard Director of Interagency Operations, and Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, were all on hand to represent the Virginia National Guard and recognize the graduates after the completion of the 22-week quasi-military residential phase of the program. The graduates now move on to a 12-month post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long Jr., the Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Janice Igou, Virginia National Guard Director of Interagency Operations, and Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, were all on hand to represent the Virginia National Guard and recognize the graduates after the completion of the 22-week quasi-military residential phase of the program. The graduates now move on to a 12-month post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The Virginia National Guard’s 29th Division Band provided music for the ceremony.“Just like this 22-week academy, life is tough,” Rigell told the graduates. “But anything of value takes great effort to accomplish.”Rigell also told them that a key to their success after ChallNGe will be based on who they spend time with and who they let into their lives.

“Be deliberate, be careful and be thoughtful on who you bring to your inner circle,” he warned.

Cadet Ian Hyland gave the graduation address on behalf of Class 38. He began by reminiscing about the first day at ChalleNGE and the difficulties he and his fellow cadets faced.

“Although it was stressful we all started to evolve into something we had never thought possible- adults,” he said. “Before ChalleNGe, a lot of us were, to put it nicely, troublemakers. We did what we wanted, when we wanted. We were disrespectful and full of doubt. But today we stand tall with the knowledge we can do anything we put our minds to.”

Hyland said he sees his fellow cadets differently than he did when he first arrived.

“As I look into the audience, I no longer see cadets. I see doctors, lawyers, CEOs, teachers and so on,” he said. “We are all now finally on the right track. It is up to us now to stay on that right track.”

The cadets were also recognized by various organizations for their community service time. Class 38 performed more than 23,000 hours of community service with an estimated market value of $176,000. Among the places they volunteered were at two fitness centers, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, NAS Oceana commissary, Lynnhaven Elementary School, Virginia Beach SPCA and Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation.

Retired Col. Jimmy J. Chandler, Director of ChalleNGe, receives the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit from Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, as recognition for his hard work and dedication while leading the ChalleNGe program. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Retired Col. Jimmy J. Chandler, Director of ChalleNGe, receives the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit from Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, as recognition for his hard work and dedication while leading the ChalleNGe program. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The highest award a Commonwealth ChalleNGe cadet can achieve is to become a “gold phase” cadet. On behalf of the cadets and the staff, retired Lt. Cmdr. Richard Guzman, Deputy Commander of ChalleNGe, made Chandler an honorary “gold phase” cadet.“From all of us at the Department of Military Affairs, we appreciate your leadership,” Wright told Chandler. “You took on a pretty good program and made it better.”Wright then presented Chandler with the Virginia National Guard Legion of Merit.

“This job’s exhibited the highest of highs and the lowest of lows I’ve felt since Vietnam,” Chandler said of his two years as ChalleNGe director. “I ask you to applaud not only the fortitude of the cadets to succeed and complete the program but also applaud the staff of ChalleNGe for all the sacrifice on a daily basis to see the cadets to graduation.”

Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out or are on the verge of dropping out of high school with skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. As an alternative education program they also have the opportunity to prepare for and take the General Educational Development test. Teenagers also prepare for future employment, military or higher education opportunities during the residential phase. Offered free to teenagers 16 to 18 in Virginia, Commonwealth ChalleNGe is a statewide alternative educational program with two components- a 22-week quasi-military residential phase and a 12-month post-residential phase.

During the 22-week residential phase, cadet studies center on the eight components of the program- academics, life-coping skills, work skills, citizenship, leadership, health education, physical fitness and community service. Cadets have the opportunity to take the GED test and establish a life plan (continued education, employment or military service) during this phase.

Graduates must now either go back to high school, join the military, go to college, or have a job in place.
In the 12-month post-residential phase, a stage Class 38 has now reached, a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

With this class, more than 4,000 teens have now graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it began in 1994.


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