Nearly 200 young people had something to celebrate on Friday, as it was graduation day for the Alaska Military Youth Academy. The ceremony took place in the Dena'ina Center, which was filled with families and well wishers.

At 184 cadets, it was the biggest graduating class in the Academy's 24 year history. The five-month program accepts at-risk youths from around the state and helps to turn their lives around.

John Duke said he knows that first hand. The former student was hired to work at the Academy several years ago and now oversees a platoon.

"Our community needs a program like this," said Duke. "To see where kids start off and then be able to graduate is truly awesome. It changes you as a person."

Academy Director Bob Roses said some of the grads will continue their education, others are planning to enter the military and still others have jobs waiting. Roses said 24 of the grads earned high school diplomas, more than 100 completed GEDs, while many others finished training or apprenticeship programs while enrolled at the Youth Academy .