Louisiana National Guard’s Youth Challenge program graduated 263 cadets from the Gillis W. Long Center in Carville on Sept. 12 during a ceremony at Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker.

Graduating cadets included natives of East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes: Michael Ford Jr., Martinique Perkins and Dy’Teon Simpson, all of Baker, and Hunter Martin, of Jackson.

Kenneth Allen Polite Jr., U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, delivered the commencement address.

Sixteen cadets were awarded a five-star ranking, the highest a cadet can achieve, excelling in all aspects of the program. Skye Hurlburt, of Abita Springs, was selected as Cadet of the Cycle and delivered the commencement speech.

Through partnerships with Bossier Parish Community College and Associated Building Contractors, the program offers additional opportunities to further educational goals, such as the 39 cadets who earned up to 15 transferable college credits before graduating from the nearly six-month program.

Also, 53 cadets completed a 90-hour electrical course, allowing them to become certified in basic construction technology.

Capt. Jackie Manton, director of the program at the Gillis Long Center, said the YC program provides purpose, direction and motivation for young men and women.

The program’s mission is to intervene in and reclaim the lives of 16- to 18-year-olds, producing graduates with the values, life skills, education and self-discipline necessary in order to succeed as productive citizens, Manton said.