Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 27 cadets in Va. Beach ceremony

Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia (right), Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Chief of the Joint Staff (center), and Col. Paul Griffin, the Director of the Joint Staff (left), congratulate a graduate of Class 41 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, Aug. 9, 2014, at Corporate Landing Middle School in Virginia Beach. Twenty-seven cadets graduated from the program, which 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. The graduates completed the 20-week, residential period of academics, physical fitness, counseling, life skills, and team building and now move on to a 12-month, post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia (right), Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Director of the Joint Staff (center), and Col. Paul Griffin, the Chief of the Joint Staff (left), congratulate a graduate of Class 41 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, Aug. 9, 2014, at Corporate Landing Middle School in Virginia Beach, Va. Twenty-seven cadets graduated from the program, which 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. The graduates completed the 20-week, residential period of academics, physical fitness, counseling, life skills, and team building and now move on to a 12-month, post-residential phase. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia National Guard Public Affairs)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Twenty-seven cadets from Class 41 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated during a commencement ceremony Aug. 9, 2014, at Corporate Landing Middle School in Virginia Beach, Va. Brig. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia, Brig. Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the Director of the Joint Staff, and Col. Paul Griffin, the Chief of the Joint Staff, represented the Virginia National Guard and the Clifton Forge-based 29th Division Band performed ceremonial music for the event. Staff Sgt. Jay Campbell of the United States Marine Corps, a member of Commonwealth ChalleNGe Class 16, was the guest speaker.

“We all had our different reasons for coming to ChalleNGe but one thing we all had in common was that we all chose to come to this program voluntarily to better ourselves in one way or another,” said Cadet Alexander James. “Having learned so many new things and having being given so many new opportunities, we have fully grasped the realization that this is the greatest opportunity any of us have ever had.”

Staff Sgt. Jay Campbell of the United States Marine Corps, a graduate of Commonwealth ChalleNGe Class 16, was the guest speaker for the graduation of Class 41. Campbell, who currently attends Old Dominion University, recounted for the cadets his personal experience and reasons for coming to ChalleNGe and urged the graduates to follow the right path in life. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Staff Sgt. Jay Campbell of the United States Marine Corps, a graduate of Commonwealth ChalleNGe Class 16, was the guest speaker for the graduation of Class 41. Campbell, who currently attends Old Dominion University, recounted for the cadets his personal experience and reasons for coming to ChalleNGe and urged the graduates to follow the right path in life. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

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. The graduates completed the 20-week, residential period of academics, physical fitness, counseling, life skills, and team building and now move on to a 12-month, post-residential phase.

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.

Campbell, who is currently attending Old Dominion University, recounted for the cadets his personal experience and reasons for coming to ChalleNGe. His life changed on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he said.

“That morning told me I’d rather die for something than go on living for nothing,” Campbell said. “This program is what did it for me. This wasn’t a stepping stone. This was a launching pad.”

“Everyone has a story of struggle, of how someone did them wrong or hurt them,” he added. “Don’t let the story end there and live the rest of your life blaming people.

He urged the cadets to find their ‘why’ in life.

“Know your ‘why.’ There is a ‘why’ in you being here today,” he said. “There was a ‘why’ in you coming here a few months ago. Your ‘why’ might be a thing, a goal, a guilt, a person. Never ever forget your ‘why.’ Don’t be motivated by money, by personal accomplishments or by accolades. Be motivated by your ‘why.’”

A number of cadets received awards and honors during the ceremony. Cadet Andrew Roacha was recognized as the distinguished honor graduate while James and Cadet Matt Mullaney received honor grad recognition.

James, the Student Cadet Association president, was also honored for receiving his high school diploma, in addition to his GED, while in the ChalleNGe program.

Cadet Jonny Ngo Dang was also recognized for his academic performance.

A number of cadets who received awards at a banquet July 31, were also recognized at the commencement ceremony. Cadet Bruce Griffin III received the Platoon Sergeant Award and the Overall Leadership Award. Mullaney received the Outstanding Physical Training Award. The Most Improved Cadet Award went to Cadet Miguel Blow. Roacha was honored with the Monthly PT Award and Cadet Tony Rendon with the Monthly Leadership Award.

Retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, presents Cadet Matt Mullaney with a certificate honoring him as one of two honor graduates in Class 41 at the commencement ceremony Aug. 9, 2014, at Corporate Landing Middle School in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, presents Cadet Matt Mullaney with a certificate honoring him as one of two honor graduates in Class 41 at the commencement ceremony Aug. 9, 2014, at Corporate Landing Middle School in Virginia Beach. (Photo by Master Sgt. A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Each ChalleNGe cadet is required to perform a minimum of 40 hours of community service. Class 41 performed more than 1,300 hours of community service with an estimated market value of $11,700 according to retired Army Sgt. Maj. Robert Laury, commandant of Commonwealth ChalleNGe.

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

“ChalleNGE has been a once in a lifetime experience that has pushed all of us to our limits,” James said. “We have all taken a step in the right direction and there is a forward momentum in our lives right now. We all need to keep that moving.

“Remember to stay focus and keep busy,” he told his fellow cadets. “We have all been given the information and resources to succeed in whatever path we chose to go on, it’s just a matter of what we do with it. The real challenge is going back home and taking everything we have learned and using it to make something good for ourselves.”

“You are not done,” Campbell explained. “This is only the beginning. You are what you do today. Who are you going to be tomorrow and next week?”

“Be respectful of others. Do the right thing when no one is looking. Give it your best effort every day,” retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, director of ChalleNGe, told the graduates. “If you ever needs us, call. If you ever need us and can’t call, walk in the gate. We have the staff and the resources to help. You may need some help when you get back out there, so call.”


Photos: Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 27 cadets in Va. Beach ceremony