Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy hosts 2023 graduation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A total of seventy cadets who had faced academic challenges in school are now walking across the graduation stage after being put to the ultimate test– a 22-week quasi-military program.

The West Virginia National Guard’s Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy- South held its graduation Friday for class 1-2023.

Cadet Angelo Hurtte was among those graduates Friday, and he said after the 5 months of being away from home and facing challenges he’s never had to experience before, it was a bitter sweet moment.

“It’s a lot of mixed feelings, I didn’t expect to graduate but I came out and did it, so I’m just proud of myself,” he said.

Hurtte, being among the 71% of cadets to graduate with a high school diploma said his future is now looking a lot brighter.

“I’m thinking about military service but I might be going to college for graphic design,” Hurtte said. 

Adjutant General Special Assistant and keynote speaker at Friday’s graduation Michaella Munger said not all of the cadets who attend the 22-week program are at-risk of not gradating high school but the majority of them to enter usually are.

Munger said when they arrive at the facility it’s all structure, with no access to cell phones or social media and nearly complete isolation in a strict military-like environment.

She said when they come, they must come committed to getting a high school diploma and paving a way toward a better future for themselves.

“Not all of the cadets that start get to finish so it’s a very challenging program for some of these cadets, and for them to get to this point today, it was just a lot of growth, individual learning, challenges,” said Munger.

Munger said the program expands outside of the classroom, as well, through assigning the cadets community service requirements and the exploration of other trades that one won’t find in a classroom-setting.

She said throughout the program the cadets learn and grow a lot and she sees much potential in them to achieve their goals and dreams.

“I want them to have a sense of accomplishment that they can do more in life than nothing,” she said. “That they can be somebody, that they have what it takes to be productive members of society, to take care of themselves, to take care of their families, to contribute.”

She added that the challenge academy gives them the leg up to accomplish such goals.

“The world is their oyster and I’m jealous of where they are in life that they have the ability to go out and do great things if they put their mind to it and I think the challenge academy gives them the confidence to go do great things,” Munger said.

This graduating class at MCA contributed a total of 5,295 hours to 26 community service projects. Partnering with the Department of Natural Resources helping to conduct them, the projects had an economic impact valued at over $151,000.

The MCA program has had a total of 5,502 graduates walk across the stage since it began in 1994, with 2,366 earning high school diplomas.