FORT KNOX, Ky. — Most high school graduation ceremonies have been postponed or adjusted so graduates walk across the stage alone, but Bluegrass Challenge Academy held a traditional graduation ceremony this morning at Fort Knox.
It’s a unique program for a unique group of students.
Bluegrass Challenge Academy is a residential education program for at-risk kids run by the Kentucky National Guard.
Nineteen-year-old Joshua Eddings came into Bluegrass Challenge Academy with an open mind but unsure what to expect.
“I didn’t think this place had much to offer me other than a place where I didn’t have to worry about paying bills and making sure I was fed every day,” Eddings said. “But it truly blew me away with how much it did give me.
He left the program as class president and with his high school diploma.
“I did not expect to graduate on time this year because of the stresses I was dealing with back home, so this was just truly a blessing to say the least,” Eddings said.
Students, called cadets, arrived in January to begin the program, which includes a traditional school schedule but also lessons in self-discipline, leadership and responsibility.
“I learned so many great things about life, how to be a young adult, not a child or a teen,” 17-year-old Amy Campbell said.
“I’ve learned how to take care of myself more and how to give myself self-respect and everybody else around me,” 18-year-old Moses Thompson said.
There are 41 programs like this throughout the country, but only six have continued throughout the pandemic.
Cadets stayed isolated on the Fort Knox installation, so were able to have a tradition graduation ceremony, just without guests.
Nine cadets received their high school diplomas.
“I’m just surprised [I did it],” Thompson said. “A lot of hard work, extra time in the classroom.”
The other 56 will return to their home school districts.
All cadets are going home with a changed outlook, newfound confidence and a second chance.
“I think the most important thing that I’m going to take away from this is that life will kick you in the shins,” Campbell said. “It will kick you 100 times but it’s all about how you respond to it.”
“No matter how chaotic I may think things are, I still have the choice to take control of my situation,” Eddings said.
The cadets have completed the first six months of the program, now they will spend the next 12 meeting with mentors they have chosen in their communities.