112 Cadets Graduate from NCNG's Tarheel Challenge Program


A graduation ceremony was held in Clinton June 14 for the 40th class of North Carolina National Guard’s Tarheel Challenge Program.

Families of the 112 graduates gathered at the Sampson County Exposition Center to watch the cadets, dressed in bright blue caps and gowns, receive their General Education Development Certificate, the equivalent of a high school diploma.

Secretary Kieran Shanahan, keynote speaker, told the grads, “Way to go. Well done. Congratulations on your individual achievements.”

Shanahan said three cadets told him that their mom was proud of them for the first time in their lives. “All of us are on a journey in life,” Shanahan said as he set forth his principles. He said life is really a journey and not a destination; that no matter how much you do, life is not fair; get in the game and be prepared when you get there; if you want friends, be a friend; use failures to catapult you further on your journey; and life is a gift – give it away.

“The journey you are on will put you on the path of success,” Shanahan said The June 2013 graduating class brings the number of total graduates of Tarheel Challenge to 3,683 since the academy opened in 1994.

The N.C. National Guard provides a second chance to high school drop-outs who are potentially headed for trouble. The quasi-military program teaches discipline and life skills as well as physical and classroom training.

“This is not an easy program,” Brigadier General James Ernst told the cadets. “I encourage each of you to take adversity and turn it into opportunity.”

As the cadets marched across the stage to receive their certificate, they shook hands with Secretary Shanahan, BG Ernst and the deputy director of the program, Frank Bolton. Nearly every cadet had plans to attend a community college. A criminal justice instructor from Wesleyan College attended the ceremony looking for graduates who may qualify for a scholarship at the Rocky Mount institution.

Seven of the cadets scored over 3,000 on their GED test and became members of the 3,000 club. Three of the 66 cadets who took the GED test had a perfect score of 800. Forty-six cadets earned a career readiness certificate.

Required to provide community service, cadets worked at senior centers, participated in clean-up campaigns, raised money through a Walk-A-Thon for charitable organizations and sponsored a blood drive with the American Red Cross as well as other charitable activities. Cadets gave a total of 9,180 hours of community service.

Graduate Jacob S. Dawson received the Gerald A. Rudisill Award for courage, candor, competence and commitment. Graduate Evie Blazier received the Most Outstanding Cadet award for excelling in eight competencies.

Cadet Neill T. West III, was the class valedictorian. He addressed his fellow students, saying, “Everyone has gone through something to make them want to quit. This (program) wasn’t what I thought it would be, but it has opened so many doors for me. Don’t slip back into old habits.”



Contact: Patty McQuillan
Phone: (919) 825-2735

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