Freestate ChalleNGe Academy graduates 99 cadets in 49th class

Cadet Amilcar Prudencio runs out of the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy completion ceremony Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

The first snowfall of the season was not enough to stop the family of Majuwana Wijesekara from traveling from Silver Spring to Joppa, Maryland to attend the 16-year-old’s graduation from the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy.

It was a day the entire family was looking forward to, but especially Majuwana, who worked more than five months to earn the opportunity to walk across the stage of The New Life Center at Mountain Christian Church with a certificate of completion in hand.

“It’s a step closer to my future,” she said, adding that she plans to study art in college. “It was a process getting there.”

Majuwana was one of 99 cadets who participated in the completion ceremony exercises Dec. 9, that culminated 22 weeks of training at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Majuwana said she was happy to complete the program and for her family to be proud of her. Her father, Camillus, said he was grateful for what the program did for his daughter.

“We’re just so happy,” he said. “She did a u-turn and she took that challenge to change herself and she has succeeded.”

Cadets enrolled in the Maryland National Guard Freestate Challenge Academy, or, FCA, learn lessons focused on self-discipline, leadership and responsibility, while also preparing to take the state’s GED certification exam. Maryland is one of 10 states that started the FCA program in 1993.

5-year-old Amber Marie Williams holds a sign in support of her cousin, Cadet Destiny Lanteon Seay, during the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy completion ceremony Saturday, Dec. 9, 2017.

Program director Charles Holloway advised the cadets to take what they have learned to make wise decisions as they leave the program.

He encouraged the cadets to be the best they can be.

“The only way your dreams work is if you do,” he said. “This is just a stepping stone for the great person that you’re going to become.”

One by one, each cadet received their certificate while loved ones held balloons and signs of support. More than half the graduates had their GED diplomas waiting for them as they left the Joppa church, Holloway said. Class members improved their learning grade level by almost four grade levels in 22 weeks, he said. The cadets also performed more than 5,000 hours of community service.

In his message to the cadets, Assistant Adjutant General, Maryland National Guard Brigadier Gen. Timothy E. Gowen said taking part in the academy provides them with opportunities to do great things and understand the value of goals and objectives and taking the steps to meet them.

“You’re through the hard part, you still have another year to go,” he said. “Keep looking forward, keep making those good decisions, remember the structure and discipline you learned in these last 22 weeks [and] apply them to everything you do.”

As the class speaker, 17-year-old Razziah Green talked about her upbringing, the challenges she faced, what led her to attending the academy, and how the program changed her for the better. She was able to take driving classes, yoga and cooking, and she attended her first baseball game and went canoeing for the first time. She also taught children with special needs how to ride bicycles.

“I’m lucky to get another chance,” she said, adding that she is working toward a job with Amazon and she plans to attend college to pursue a career in nursing.

“There’s a saying, if you were born with the weakness to fall, you were born with the strength to rise,” she said. “If the hurt comes, so will the happiness.”

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was Baltimore-based human development consultant James E. Green, who shared the art of mastering a bad decision in order to make good decisions, moving forward. He stressed staying honest and positive.

Next for the graduates is a 12-month process during which mentors help them stay focused on continuing education or entry-level employment.