Hopkins presents YCP graduates with certificates during graduation ceremonies held on June 23.

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The National Guard’s Youth Challenge Program had 179 cadets graduate June 23, many with honors and certifications, at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center near Camp Shelby. This was Class 26 who spent 22 weeks learning to take a different road.

For the 179 who had chosen to drop out of high school or were at-risk students, this was a road less traveled like the man in the Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” It was a lesser forged road of hard work toward a general equivalency diploma, there was a special look of success on their faces.

“We are so proud of you,” said guest speaker Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Alben (AI) N. Hopkins, former assistant adjutant general of the Mississippi Army National Guard, and avid supporter of the Youth Challenge Program. “Today we honor you as graduates. You have met the challenge.”

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Each graduate or cadet completed an average of 142 hours of community service. Ten received certification as Microsoft Word specialists; eight completed NCCER (National Center for Construction Education and Research) Craft Training at Pearl River Community College; and 22 completed up to 15 credit hours in college classes through William Carey University. Several student were awarded scholarships to various colleges or universities within the state.

To date, 5,045 cadets have received their diploma from the Camp Shelby YCP since its establishment 16 years ago. The mission of the YCP then and it is now, is to intervene in the life of an at-risk youth and produce a program graduate with values, skills, educations and self-discipline necessary to succeed as an adult.

“I would just like to say how thankful I am for this program,” class valedictorian Andrew Wright told his classmates. “Before this program, I made a lot of bad choices…This is our first step in leading very successful lives.”

“Remember, the road less traveled, by definition, is the one that is less simple and not easy,” Hopkins told the graduating class. “It’s the road that’s not mapped. Success is measured by the obstacles you have overcome in reaching that position.” Hopkins presented the diplomas to each of the cadets.

The road at the YCP is not an easy one. Cadets spend 22 weeks in the program at Camp Shelby, working together in platoons, living in barracks, and learning discipline—military style. In addition to taking high school and college classes, cadets also have the opportunity to participate in volleyball, cross-country, track, military drill, basketball, choir, church services and other activities that help build character and build teamwork.