Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 91 from Class 49

Walt Mercer, (left) chief operations officer for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, joins Mark Chicoine, (right) director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, in congratulating 91 graduates from Class 49 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy Aug. 25, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

Walt Mercer, (left) chief operations officer for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, joins Mark Chicoine, (right) director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, in congratulating 91 graduates from Class 49 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy Aug. 25, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 91 cadets from Class 49 during a ceremony Aug. 25, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. Walt Mercer, chief operations officer for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs, joined Mark Chicoine, director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, in congratulating the cadets on finishing the five-and-a-half-month residential portion of the program.

“This is our 25th year and today Class 49 graduated the 5,000th cadet in the Virginia program,” Chicoine said. “I really want everyone to take a minute and applaud my staff. Their work has been absolutely outstanding. Our cadets are a direct reflection of us and I tell you what the staff did phenomenal work with this class.”

Commonwealth ChalleNGe, the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, is 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 includes a five-and-a-half-month residential program which focuses on preparing at-risk teens and high school dropouts for the General Educational Development test and future employment, military or higher education opportunities.

A Class 49 graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy poses with family members following the graduation ceremony Aug. 25, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. ChalleNGe aims to intervene in the lives of 16-18 year-old teenagers by providing values, skills, education and self-discipline needed to produce responsible, productive citizens, and to do so in a highly-structured learning environment. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

A Class 49 graduate of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy poses with family members following the graduation ceremony Aug. 25, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach. ChalleNGe aims to intervene in the lives of 16-18 year-old teenagers by providing values, skills, education and self-discipline needed to produce responsible, productive citizens, and to do so in a highly-structured learning environment. (U.S. National Guard photo by A.J. Coyne)

Staff Sgt. Cory Burch, a graduate of the Oregon Youth ChalleNGe Program and currently an active duty Airman assigned to Joint Base Langley-Eustis, was the guest speaker for the graduation. He congratulated the cadets, thanked the families for supporting them throughout the program, and then shared his story and how he ended up at ChalleNGe.

“Twelve years ago, I graduated from the Oregon ChalleNGe program and I’m a big believer in everything it stands for,” Burch said. “ChalleNGe is a voluntary program and I stuck with it. I think it was partly to prove something to the world but mostly to prove something to myself.

“Here I am today a ChalleNGe graduate, a college graduate, a staff sergeant in the Air Force and, most importantly, a proud, productive American,” Burch said. “I can tell you without a doubt the most decisive moment that set that all of that in motion was the day I walked into the Oregon Youth ChalleNGe program and the day I sat on stage, much like this one, a ChalleNGe graduate.”

Chicoine left the cadets with a few tips and reminded them they can always come home.

“Always be respectful of others. Do the right thing when nobody’s looking. And keep giving it your best effort every day,” he said. “If you need us, give us a call, walk in that gate and we’ll accept you with open arms. Each one of you have earned our loyalty and respect so go forth and do great things. Congratulations!”

Class 49 completed 6,500 hours of community service in the Virginia Beach community worth a total of $4,230. According to Chicoine, 75 cadets from Class 49 passed the GED and the class earned close to 200 credits.

In addition, the program had 100% placement of the cadets, meaning all of them are either going to college, returning to high school, working a fulltime job or joining the military.

Cadets who previously received awards at the Class 49 Awards Banquet were also recognized during the ceremony. Cadet Traymon Pate received the Overall Leadership Award, Cadet Michael Fuzi was honored with the Outstanding Physical Fitness Award and Cadet Noah Helm received the Most Improved Physical Fitness Award.

Platoon Leadership Awards were given to Cadets Pate, Ja’Nae Cunningham and Sean Baker.

Awards for honor graduates were given to Noah Helm, Aaron Martin, Frank Lewis, Pate, Laura Sandova-Ramos, Iyona Ankum, Sarah Gittins, Christopher Garone, Garrett White, Desmond Bullard and Sean Baker.


Photos: Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 91 from Class 49 – Aug. 25, 2018