Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 79 cadets from Class 40

Cadets from Class 40 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduate during a commencement ceremony June 21, 2014, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, with skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Cadets from Class 40 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduate during a commencement ceremony June 21, 2014, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, or are on the verge of dropping out of high school, with skills, discipline and academics to become a productive citizen. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 79 cadets during a commencement ceremony for Class 40 June 21, 2014, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Director of the Joint Staff of the Virginia National Guard, was the guest speaker and music was provided by the 29th Division Band. Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, was also on hand to represent the Virginia National Guard and recognize the graduates after the completion of the 20-week, residential period of academics, physical fitness, counseling, life skills, and team building.

Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams (center), the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Director of the Joint Staff of the Virginia National Guard, congratulate the 79 graduates of Class 40 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy June 21, 2014, in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams (center), the Adjutant General of Virginia, and Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Director of the Joint Staff of the Virginia National Guard, congratulate the 79 graduates of Class 40 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy June 21, 2014, in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“In January, Class 40 started with 134 cadets. Today we’re here to celebrate the 79 who had the drive and determination to complete the program,” Wright said.

“Commonwealth Challenge has been just that- a challenge. To endure and overcome,” said Cadet Tarique Davis, the ChalleNGe Student Cadet Association president. “It was not easy. But we made it through. Through effort and perseverance, we prevailed.”

Cadet Elijah Randy Abernathy received the Most Improved Physical Fitness Award, Cadet Marcus Allen Roach was awarded the Outstanding Physical Fitness Award, and Cadet Nicole Recker received the award for Overall Academic Excellence.

“The people here today are the ones who looked in the mirror and said ‘This is my future and I choose to do something productive with it,’” added Davis, who received the Outstanding Leadership Award. “All of us here have been instilled with discipline, motivation and intensity and we are ready to become the next leaders of this world.”

“In my opinion the Challenge program is important for two reasons,” Wright said. “The first is it gives young men and women the opportunity to reestablish, strengthen and build character. Secondly, the program affords them the opportunity to transform into more confident individuals and become a part of a team, something bigger than themselves.”

Each ChalleNGe cadet is required to perform a minimum of 40 hours of community service. Class 40 performed more than 7,500 hours of community service with an estimated market value of $60,000 according to retired Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Laury, commandant of Commonwealth ChalleNGe. Each cadet averaged 72 hours of community service. Among the places they volunteered were the NAS Oceana commissary, Virginia Beach Parks and Recreation, and several local events such as the Shamrock Marathon.

The Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Division Band performs ceremonial music at the graduation ceremony for 79 cadets from the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy June 21, 2014, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Division Band performs ceremonial music at the graduation ceremony for 79 cadets from the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy June 21, 2014, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“I’ve watched you transition from a group of individuals to a company of teammates by learning to resolve conflict, learning to work together and sharing both the good times and the bad times,” said retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, director of ChalleNGe. “Congratulations.”

The graduates now move on to a 12-month post-residential phase. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, which focuses on preparing teenagers that have dropped out of high school, 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 20-week, quasi-military residential phase and a 12-month post-residential phase.

During the 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 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 40 has now reached, a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

“Parents and guardians, thank you for your patience and support over the course of this class,” Chicoine said. “Now that they are returning to you, if we can assist you, reach out to our staff. We’re always there. If you need help, please reach out to us.”

“Class 40, the challenge is not over,” Davis said. “I ask you to use the skills and knowledge you learned here to your advantage. To the loved ones and families, I implore you to keep them motivated and encouraged.”


Photos: Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy Class 40 graduates 79 in Virginia Beach – June 21, 2014