Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 115 cadets from Class 48

The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduates 115 cadets from Class 48 in a ceremony at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia March 3, 2018. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Szoke)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy graduated 115 cadets from Class 48 in a ceremony held March 3, 2018, at Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The cadets spent five-and-a-half months in residence at the Commonwealth ChalleNGe Academy and will begin the 12 month post-residential phase where they will work to find employment, continue their education or enter military service.

Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia; Brig. Gen. Paul F. Griffin, Director of the Joint Staff of the Virginia National Guard; and retired Navy Capt. Mark Chicoine, Director of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe Youth Academy, congratulated the cadets on finishing the five-and-a-half month residential portion of the program.

“Every opportunity we have to come down here to see these young men and women graduate from the program reaffirms our belief in what we do is so important to the community,” said Williams. “They’re being given another chance and they have the opportunity to go out there and become a light for the state.”

The Commonwealth ChalleNGe Program’s mission is to work with youth between the ages of 16 to 18 to focus and make positive improvements during the residential phase. The program’s mission is to intervene in the life of at-risk youth by providing the values, skills, education and self-discipline needed to produce responsible, productive citizens, and to do so in a highly disciplined, military-style atmosphere.

Guest speaker, retired Tech Sgt. Aaron Cruz, a graduate of the ChalleNGe Academy in 1998, offered his first-hand experience of how life turned out for him after the program.

“I was actually a prior graduate here at the Commonwealth ChalleNGe many, many years ago. And, I have to tell you, along the way, I joined the Air Force and got a little bit of education,” said Cruz. “I personally believe that, from where you’re sitting right now, you can be far greater than what I’ve become because you’ve got the blueprint on life. You’ve got the cheat codes on how to get ahead in life.”

Commonwealth ChalleNGe started in 1994 at the State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach and each class accepts up to 180 youth per session. Since then, over 4,400 cadets have completed the rigorous program.

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