The Louisiana National Guard Youth Challenge Program graduated 221 cadets during a ceremony at the Alexandria Riverfront Center in Pineville on Dec. 12, with state Rep. Mickey J. Guillory, District 41, delivering the commencement address.

The commencement ceremony was historic in that the Louisiana National Guard celebrated it’s 20,000th graduate of the program.

The Youth Challenge Program in Louisiana was established in 1993, following congressional approval for a pilot program to address and improve the high school dropout crisis, according to a news release.

Camp Beauregard YCP was established as one of 10 pilot programs nationwide and was successful, with the Louisiana National Guard being recognized for its ability to train, lead and mentor youth.

In 1999, the Gillis W. Long Center became the second YCP program, and Camp Minden was established as the state’s third in 2001.

The program instills self-discipline, life skills and values in 16- to 18-year-olds and assists students with improving their grades and working toward earning their GED.

Annually, about 1,400 teens graduate from the program.

Twelve cadets, including Nelwyn Jackson, of Jackson, were awarded the rank of 5 star — the highest a cadet can achieve — for excelling in all aspects of the program.

Besides Jackson, graduating cadets from the region include: Antonio Allen, of Baker; Warren Arndt, of Zachary; and Ty’Rell Guy, of Zachary.