MAUSTON, Wis. — Over 100 cadets graduated as Class 43 from the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy in front of family, friends, distinguished guests and academy staff Saturday, December 14 at Mauston High School.
Cadets completed a 22-week program designed to re-shape the lives of at-risk-16-to-18-year olds through structured, military-like training with educators and counselors trained to build the cadet’s character and personal discipline.
Emily Armstrong, a Class 43 cadet, decided to go the challenge academy so that she could try something new and build her self-confidence.
“I found an escape from myself,” said Armstrong. “I was able to focus on my goals and my schooling here. I was in a negative mindset and didn’t like how I thought. Since coming here I learned coping skills and I learned how to treat myself positively.”
Laura Page, a team leader at the Challenge Academy said that her favorite part of her job is seeing a newfound confidence in the faces of the cadets as they graduate from the Academy.
“They’re so much more self-assured by the end of the program,” said Page. “This is the most rewarding career I’ve ever had. I’m here to mentor and coach these kids, but they are the ones that decided to change themselves and it’s a privilege and honor to take this journey with them.”
Kevin Greenwood, Director of the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy, said the program is a whole-person approach to helping cadets change their path in life by adjusting habits, building resilience, and strengthening character.
“Most of the cadets come for their high school equivalency diploma,” said Greenwood. “When I asked a few of the cadets today if they felt they’re leaving with more than just a diploma all of them felt as though they got more out of the program.”
Brig. Gen. Gary L. Ebben, Wisconsin’s deputy adjutant general for Air, was the keynote speaker for the event. In his remarks he emphasized the importance of sticking to the skills taught in the program after graduation.
“In your future there will be a tremendous amount of change,” said Ebben. “You must be a continuous learner in order to succeed. Be proactive - take time to take control of your life. I’m proud of you.”
Ebben also said that he sees the program as an investment in our future.
Sheri Splan, the mother of Cadet Brice Splan said that though it was a challenge to be away from her son, it got easier over time and he came back home a more mature, outgoing person.
“He is now a happier kid, said Splan. “He has found himself here. He found friends, he felt important and it really gave him another family. This place gave him the tools to change his life.”
The penultimate part of any Challenge Academy graduation ceremony is the speech by the distinguished honor graduate. The distinguished honor graduate for class 43 was Corban Tipton. Tipton told his instructors prior to giving a speech that he had never had the chance to speak for an audience before.
“I’m speaking up here because we’ve changed since coming to the academy,” said Tipton. “July seems like just yesterday, but I know it's been much longer because now I have new friends and the skills to take on life’s challenges.”
At the conclusion of Tipton’s speech, the audience gave him a standing ovation.
The National Guard Youth Challenge Program currently operates 40 programs in 28 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Nationwide, more than 145,000 teens have graduated from the program. In Wisconsin, more than 3,600 students have graduated – 81 percent earn high school equivalency diplomas while attending the academy.