Story by SPC Alonzo Clark on 09/23/2019Cadets of North Carolina National Guard's Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy (TCA) New London received their diplomas as they walked across the stage September 13, 2019, at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center in Albemarle, North Carolina.
Cadets went through a military style program for 22-weeks that was divided into two phases: the residential phase and the non-residential phase where the 117 Cadets spent 12 months updating their mentors about their progression.
The academy speaker of the commencement, retired Col. Edward Timmons gave a speech about holding close the values and principles that were taught to them.
"What you do everyday will affect your tomorrow," Timmons said. "It will impact your future."
The honor graduate and Cadet Commander of TCA, Cadet Antony Bou did not plan on participating and said he could n0t imagine the program having such a positive impact on his life.
"Before TCA, really I wasn't going to school because my school became overcrowded and I felt like I was incapable of learning," Bou said. "So I got a job working as a dishwasher, and after months of it, I realize that's not what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, just working a dead-end job."
Bou's mother suggested TCA to him and she believed his attendance would motivate him to better his life.
According to the TCA website, one out of five high school students dropout in North Carolina. Cadet Kyisem Newkirk, Jr. mentioned how he did not make school a priority.
"My situation was not paying attention in school, I would just go to school just to be there," Newkirk said.
Timmons said that of the graduating class, 41% were going to community college, 30% enlisted in the military, 53% would be entering the workforce, 7% are relieved from high school credit recovery, and 17% graduated with honors.
Newkirk is a part of the 30% who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as a machine-gunner.
Previously, Newkirk failed the entrance military exam, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) multiple times shortening his chances of having any opportunities to enlist.
"With the ASVAB, I didn't do well on it at all," Newkirk said. "I've been working on trying to go to the Marine Corps for four years ever since my 8th grade year, but I never did put in the work to do it. I took the ASVAB eight times and the highest I scored was a 15. The next time I took it, I scored a 68."
The program instills teens and drop-outs to be self-disciplined, respectful, and to motivate themselves to the best individuals they can be.
Bou was one of the teens who absorbed all that was taught, and applied it to achieve his goals.
"So I was here and scored insanely high, from a 1.3 GPA to now I am the valedictorian," said Bou.
Bou plans on joining the Navy to work as an aviation mechanic or on a nuclear submarine within the next 5 to 10 years.
Of the 117 graduates, 67% scored above 1000 on the SAT and completed over 10,000 community service hours.
Bou's ended the graduation with his honorary speech leaving words of encouragement to his class.
"Be all you can be. Strive to be all you can be," said Bou.
The North Carolina National Guard currently has 40 ChalleNGe Academy programs in 28 states including Puerto Rico and D.C. TCA began its program in 1994 in Salemburg and in 2015 established the New London campus.