TCA graduates 112 cadets in 6th ceremony

Published 5:18 pm Thursday, September 20, 2018

Class 50 of the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy marks the sixth graduating class at the New London facility.

At 112 cadets, TCA graduated its largest class yet Thursday; however, several graduates and their respective families did not make it back for the graduation at the Stanly County Agri-Civic Center because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence.

Those present refused to let the effects of Florence further dampen their accomplishments as they course life’s next step. The majority of the graduates reportedly plan to pursue the workforce, followed by others opting to continue their education among the state’s community colleges, including Stanly Community College.

A few indicated enlisting in the military as their next chapter.

Cadet Paul Ratke, TCA’s academic honor graduate, shared with the crowd he’s heading to The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina.

“It (TCA) has changed where I am going,” Ratke said of the program’s influence on his life and decision to attend The Citadel.

During Ratke’s “Cadet Response,” he shared a poignant tale of what his life was like before TCA.

“You have to know that I was bullied in middle school for reading books. Books!” Ratke said.

He continued by reminding cadets to stay focused on their goals and rely on the skills learned. It starts with learning “who you are” and “where are you going,” Ratke added.

Retired Army Col. Edward Timmons, state director of the Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy, serves as the commencement speaker during Thursday’s graduation.

Retired Army Col. Edward Timmons, TCA state director, substituted for scheduled commencement speaker District Court Judge Tyyawdi M. Hands, who was not able to attend due to illness.

Timmons’ pinch hit did not disappoint. He told the cadets about his own challenge as a 15-year-old black teenager in 1975, when his father died suddenly.

Instead of becoming another statistic of a wayward teen growing up with a single parent, he found direction through discipline and responsibility.

“I had a praying grandmother and a mother. I had a community and a church,” Timmons said.

“No one cares about excuses and feelings — just results,” the retired soldier added.

Timmons urged the graduates to develop goals with a plan. Then execute the plan.

He told them to have the courage to follow their heart and intuitions.

“It doesn’t matter if your dream comes true if you spent your life sleeping,” Timmons said.

TCA cadets performed nearly 3,000 hours in community service.

This graduation brings the number of TCA graduates to 5,289.

Several TCA cadets earned various honors for their accomplishments.

The Director’s Award, presented to the graduate showing the most outstanding leadership, community service, physical fitness, academic achievement and life-coping skills, was awarded to Joseph C. Hawley.

Cadet Terry C. Rebennack received the Gerald A. Rudisill Jr. Leadership Award, given to the graduate who demonstrated outstanding leadership ability.

Originally scheduled for Monday, Florence pushed the graduation ceremony back a few days. Since TCA cadets hail from all of the state’s 100 counties, those from the storm-ravaged counties in eastern North Carolina were unable to make the return trip to Stanly County.

TCA’s next class in New London begins Oct. 13, with a scheduled graduation for March 15, 2019.

North Carolina’s Tarheel ChalleNGe Academy is a quasi-military program for high school dropouts, or expellees who, if left unguided, could be headed for trouble. The 22-week program concentrates on providing the young adults with the discipline and life skills necessary to be productive members of society.

The North Carolina National Guard sponsors two Tarheel ChalleNGe Academies located in Salemburg and New London.

TCA is a volunteer program. Anyone can recommend and assist cadets. However, an applicant must volunteer for the training and be motivated and committed to turning his or her life around through this second-chance program. There is no cost to the cadet or the cadet’s family other than personal items like toiletries.

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Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or