June 23, 2011

Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe graduates 99 from Class 34

By Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne
Virginia Guard Public Affairs

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The Virginia National Guard Commonwealth ChalleNGe program graduated 99 cadets from Class 34 June 18 at the Naval Air Station Oceana theater in Virginia Beach. Virginia Sen. Frank Wagner and Brig Gen. Wayne A. Wright, the deputy Adjutant General of Virginia, were among those on hand to congratulate the graduates. The ceremony also marked a farewell for retired Marine Corps Col. T.M. Early, who is retiring as director of the ChalleNGe program after leading it since 2005.

 

Virginia Sen. Frank Wagner presents a diploma to one of the 99 graduates from Class 34 of the Virginia Commmonwealth ChalleNGe program June 18 in Virginia Beach. Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a five and a half month 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. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

“On behalf of the governor, the Secretary of Public Safety and the Adjutant General, I want to send you a very big congratulations,” Wright said. “You started out with 140 and now there are 99 of you left. Congratulations.”

“This is your day to celebrate,” Early told the graduates. “Congratulations and don’t look back.”

Wright also recognized the ChalleNGe staff and commended them for all the hard work they put into the program.

“There’s a lot of hard that goes into this,” Wright said to the staff members. “It’s your hard work that has helped these cadets to be here today.”

 

Retired Marine Corps Col. T.M. Early receives a farewell gift from Class 34 during the graduation ceremony June 18 in Virginia Beach. Early is retiring after being director of the program since 2005. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Commonwealth ChalleNGe is the Virginia component of the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe Program, a five and a half month 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.

During the ceremony, Andrew Taylor was recognized as valedictorian of Class 34, Jelani Ellis received the Leadership Award, Qua’Shawn Derry was honored for top Overall Physical Fitness and Ja’Quan Turner received the Most Improved Physical Fitness award.

In addition, Early presented the Distinguished Cadet award to Jimmy Outlaw.

“He’s done everything first,” Early said of Outlaw. “He’s been our number one man since the day he got here.”

 

Cadet Rocco Kasmark celebrates following the graduation of Class 34 of the Virginia Commonwealth ChalleNGe program June 18 in Virginia Beach. More than 3,500 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

The cadets of Class 34 were honored during the ceremony for the many hours of service to the community during their time at Commonwealth ChalleNGe. This included assisting at the Virginia Beach Convention Center, the Virginia Beach school bus garage, the Commonwealth Attorney’s office, the NAS Oceana commissary, the NAS Oceana fitness center and at Seatack Elementary School.

Offered free to at-risk teens ages 16 to 18 in Virginia, Commonwealth ChalleNGe is a statewide co-educational program with two components: a 22-week quasi-military residential phase followed by a 12-month post-residential phase.

During the 22-week residential phase, cadet studies are centered 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.

In the 12-month post - residential phase- a stage Class 34 now has reached - a mentor guides each of the cadets as they follow through with the life plan established during the residential phase.

More than 3,500 Virginia teens have graduated from Commonwealth ChalleNGe since it started in 1994.

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