Georgia First Lady speaks at Fort Gordon's National Youth Guard Challenge Academy graduation

With newfound self-confidence and academic discipline, the 219 at-risk youth who graduated from Fort Gordon’s National Guard Youth Challenge Academy on Saturday can step into a successful future, said Georgia first lady Sandra Deal.

“You are a miracle,” Deal said. “There were people in this building, people in your life that stopped that fall. They intervened, and by doing so, they brought about that miracle.”

Deal delivered the keynote address at their graduation ceremony held at James Brown Arena. Gov. Nathan Deal helped his wife and other dignitaries distribute diplomas.

“For all of us, a good self-image takes us a long way. So does our confidence and knowing that you do have the power to overcome obstacles,” Deal said prior to her address.

Deal visited Youth Challenge Academy last April, touring the facilities and speaking with young cadets.

“I observed how the time that these young people were spending here was changing lives. They had not been here very long but I could tell as they stood and presented and talked about the things they were learning, it was making a difference,” she said.

Deal called the program a “last-ditched effort” for many young people with troubled backgrounds. The cadets undergo 22 weeks of intensive physical training, life-skill practices, academic studies and community service. Students who received a high school diploma or GED will receive continued assistance from the program as they look for jobs, college placements or military options, Deal said.

The cadets have learned skills for landing a job.

“For (Deal) to see the cadets when they were relatively new to the program and then to come out and see how polished and self-disciplined they are now, is a really big treat,” said Janet Zimmerman, Youth Challenge Academy director.

Deal challenged the graduates to begin their job search Monday, not wasting any time moving into their future. With her concluding remarks, the first platoon stood at attention and marched forward to receive their diplomas.

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