HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The new head of the Mississippi National Guard's Youth Challenge Academy was present Saturday morning to hand out diplomas to dozens of former high school drop outs who completed the 22-week program. Director Lt. Col. William H. King, IV, presented diplomas to 168 cadets during a graduation ceremony for Class-41 of Youth Challenge.
King and new deputy director Lt. Col. Rickey Hosey took over in November after the former top two administrators were fired in October. That happened just three weeks after several cadets left the grounds of the academy at Camp Shelby and five were arrested for trespassing at a school.
The National Guard never said whether the firings were connected to those incidents involving the students.
King said he and his staff are putting all that behind them and are concentrating on the future of Youth Challenge.
"We overcome those challenges by staying focused on the purpose of the Youth Challenge Program and that's to focus on these young men and women," King said.
As for many of the graduates, they said they're ready to begin new chapters in their lives.
"I'm really excited, I've accomplished a lot since I've been here," said Jocelyn Varnado, a graduate from Saucier. "I'm very thankful for my family and the director that's here," she said.
"Sometimes it's rough and you miss home and your family, but it's 22 weeks, you just got to go through it," said Tanner Culbertson, a graduate from Vicksburg.
Since 1994, a total of 8,052 cadets have graduated from the Youth Challenge Program.