ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Military and community leaders, Family members, cadre and guests gathered to honor the 102 young men and women from Class 40 who successfully completed 22 weeks of rigorous training during the Maryland National Guard's (MDNG) Military Youth Corps Freestate ChalleNGe Academy commencement ceremony at the APG post theater June 15.

During the five-month, quasi-military residential program, cadets learn self-discipline and leadership skills while they prepare for the General Educational Development Test. The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy is endorsed by the state of Maryland in a cooperative agreement between the MDNG and the National Guard Bureau.

"Our mission was quite simple: to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16-to-18 year old high school dropouts, producing program graduates with the values, life skills, education and self-discipline necessary to succeed as productive citizens," said Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Director Charles Rose.

Special guests in attendance included the Adjutant General of the Maryland National Guard Maj. Gen. James A. Adkins and APG Garrison Commander Col. Gregory McClinton.

The keynote speaker Maryland Senator Nathaniel McFadden, congratulated the cadets on their achievements. McFadden said despite being disadvantaged, his parents believed in him just like members of the audience believe in the graduates.

"It is only the beginning," he said. "You serve as an example and role models. I know you have learned a lesson. You know when to say no and when to say yes. It has been instilled in you in a military fashion."

McFadden challenged the graduates to take the high road, even when it isn't easy.

"There is a rainbow at the end, if you are true to your values you learned at the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy," he said.

Class spokespersons Cadet Nancy Tapia-Loza and Cadet David Farrell Jr., shared how the academy changed their lives.

Tapia-Loza said she was homesick during the first weeks of the program and missed her Family, including her 1 year old son.

"A mother makes many sacrifices just so their child can have a better future for them and a better lifestyle," Tapia-Loza said about her decision to stay in the program. "Being away from him was very difficult for me. I sacrificed so much so I could get an education and bright future."

Tapia-Loza said that she plans to go to Prince George's Community College and earn a bachelor's degree.

"I am proud of the person Freestate has helped me turn into, I know I will go a long way," she said.

During Farrell's remarks he said he has a new outlook on life and has a set of skills that will help him become a future leader. Farrell said while at the academy he learned study skills, and would volunteer his time helping other cadets learn.

"I saw them progressing and having a sense of pride," he said. "Being able to give back is a good feeling."

Farrell said community service made a big impact on him during the program. All cadets are required to complete 40 hours of community service before graduating.

"Even something as little as cleaning trash out of a residential area, you notice how much of an impact you really caused."

Farrell said that he plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in engineering from the University of Maryland and eventually become an officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Top ChalleNGe Academy awards and $500 in scholarships went to the following:

• Cadet of the Cycle, Cadet Gerson Avelar

• Most Improved Cadet, Cadet Gene Caldwell and Whitney Stuart

• Leadership, Cadet Erick Tyler

• Continuing Education, Cadet Shaniya Mease

Scholarships:

• Maryland Chapter of the Silver Wings for Youth, awarded flight training to Cadets Marcus Ganey, Quaisean Darby, and Joseph Winter

• Rotary Club of Towson Scholarship, $1,000 awarded to Cadet Ikea Green

• Nancy H. Sevier Scholarship, $1,000 awarded to Cadet Nancy Tapia-Loza

• Maryland National Guard Foundation Scholarship, $1,000 awarded to Cadet Gerson Avelar

• Pedro 66 Scholarship, $1,000 awarded to Cadet Joseph Vicars

• Edward Saint John Foundation, Inc., $1,000 awarded to Cadet Fatima Vela

• The Aberdeen Chapter of the Association of the United States Army, $1,000 awarded to Cadets Marcus Ganey and Luis Vargas Archila

• Maryland National Guard Youth Foundation, 1,000 awarded to Cadets Kyle O'Dowd, David Farrell Jr., Joshua Wilcox and Marcus Williams

• Harford Community College Scholarship 5,000 awarded to Chastin Kotapski

• Lincoln College of Technology 10,000 scholarships awarded to Darrontay Wilson and Donita Boyd.

Page last updated Fri June 21st, 2013 at 13:31