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Challenge graduates largest class

Eastern Wyoming College auditorium filled to capacity on June 15 with family and friends there to see the Wyoming Cowboy ChalleNGe Academy graduate its largest class. WCCA Director William Moore was the last to speak at the graduation ceremony for the 59 cadets who completed rigorous resident Phase One and made the courageous choice to change their lives.

“We’re in this together, and you should know that at any time you need to talk to someone, you can call on any one of us, whether it’s mentors or fellow cadets. We’re a team,” Moore said, moments after the cadets moved their tassels from right to left. All it took was one word to seal the accomplishment. “Dismissed.”

Class 39 rapidly dispersed from rows of reserved seating into the arms of parents in an emotional display of smiles and tears. In Phase Two, the cadets will be mentored in either the next stages of their career and/or education.

Guided by the National Guard Bureau’s standards of the eight core components, 32 of the 59 cadets earned their high school equivalency certificates, formerly known as a GED. They completed 3,277.5 hours to community service, which averaged 56.5 hours per cadet, the overall value of more than $25,000 at the current rate of the minimum wage.

The Adjutant General of Wyoming Maj. Gen. Gregory Porter, who is a staunch supporter of the program, addressed the cadets on behalf of the National Guard.

Porter said, “If you make good choices, generally good things will come. Life is all about choices. Do good, do bad. Help, don’t help. Smile, don’t smile. Live, don’t live. The choice is freedom. Prior to coming to (WCCA) you were labeled at-risk youth. At risk of what? At risk of having some of your choices limited. It’s tough to make a go of it in America if you don’t have a high school education. Can you succeed? Absolutely. But you have fewer choices, less freedom, and less opportunity. Cowboy ChalleNGe gifted you nothing. You had to earn everything. You had to have the courage to change. You have earned more than a diploma. What you have earned are more choices.”

Besides being the largest, for the first time in school history, the class boasted two female cadets who played the role of company first sergeants, Danali Cline, of Cody, and Harmony Kirkham, of North Platte, Nebraska.

Cline earned a three-year scholarship presented by National Guard Youth Foundation Board Member Robin Porter, Maj. Gen. Porter’s wife. Cline plans to return to Cody High School, to earn her diploma before attending Casper College to study criminal justice. She also plans to enlist in the Wyoming National Guard.

James Hutt, of Loveland, Colorado was the named Class 39’s Top Graduate.

The academy’s featured cadet speaker, Cline, expounded on choices and freedom. “I encourage you to seek new opportunities. Nothing in life comes free. The only things of value are the ones you committed time, thought and effort to achieve. People in this world will not give you opportunities, you have to take them yourself.”

She added, “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but we’ve actually been planted. WCCA has given us the tools to grow, and now it’s our time to sprout.”