HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - Members of a Mississippi National Guard organization which gives high school drop-outs a second chance at getting an education are celebrating their largest graduating class ever. Class-35 of the Youth Challenge Academy is the biggest in the 17-year history of the program.
Saturday, the 220 members of that class received their diplomas during a graduation ceremony at the Forrest County Multi-Purpose Center.
Youth Challenge is a 22-week, military-style program which emphasizes values, self-discipline and life skills.
"I'm very happy I made it through the cycle," said Kalvin Jones, a Youth Challenge graduate from Hattiesburg. "I got what I came here for and now, it's just time to move on," Jones said.
"I came here and did what I had to do," said Cameron Clay, another graduate from Pascagoula. "I feel good and it's time to get in the real world and make something of myself," Clay said.
"The goal this time was to get around the 220 mark and by golly, the cadre and the staff here at Camp Shelby did it," said Maj. Gen. William Freeman, Mississippi's adjutant general. "220 (graduates), the largest class ever and I can't say enough about the students themselves and the cadre that helped these students graduate after 22 hard weeks," Freeman said.
Since 1994, a total of 6,819 former drop-outs have graduated from the Youth Challenge Program.