Earlier in the morning, she watched proudly as Michael Brown stood at the podium in his black cap and gown and sang the national anthem.
When the song finished, he took his place among his more than 200 fellow cadets.
Brown struggled when he went to T.W. Josey Comprehensive High School.
“I was failing classes. I started missing school a lot,” he said.
His mother encouraged him to apply for the Youth Challenge Academy, a 17-month program for high school dropouts between ages 16 and 18 that teaches life skills and helps them attain the education they need to succeed. For 22 weeks, cadets participated in a military-structured residency program.
Dr. Bob Hughes, who has been involved with the program since it began in 1993, told the class that the commencement exercise does not mean the end.
“This is the beginning of some great stuff,” he said.
He said people often refer to the three R’s – reading, ’riting and ’rithmatic. He offered the three R’s of leadership – the role, the responsibility and the results.
“The role of leadership is yours,” he said. “You can sit there and say no. You can sit there and deny it, but it won’t change it.”
Michael Brown said responsibility and self-discipline are two things he learned from the academy.
It was a rigorous program, requiring him to get up at 4:30 a.m. every morning and participate in PT before breakfast. After the morning meal, he attended classes, then went to formation before returning to his barracks to do homework.
The entire class participated in community service, completing more than 16,000 hours, and more than $50,000 in scholarships were awarded, Director Jerome Lyles said.
Brown earned a $1,000 scholarship, which he said he plans to use at Georgia Perimeter College as he begins working toward a degree in nursing. He also plans to join the National Guard.
Standing next to her son, tears streaming down her face, Patricia Brown said she would recommend the program to anyone.
“He deserved and needed better in his life,” she said. “He was going to make it, whether he wanted to or not.”