The Alaska Military Youth Academy celebrated its 50th class of students on Friday.

The group of 187 cadets were easily recognized by their friends and family who came to the Dena'ina Center to support them during graduation, but most of the graduates say they aren’t the same teenagers who started the program 22 weeks ago.

Cadet Jay Capps says he was in trouble with the law when his probation officer recommended he attend the academy.

“I come from a poor family and when I made the decision to come to AMYA I knew I was doing something better for myself, but not only for myself but for the others around me,” Capps said.

The state's five-month program accepts at-risk youth from around the Alaska and helps to turn their lives around while focusing on values, skills, education, and self-discipline.

Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan was among those who spoke to the graduating class

“What you've gone through is basically you got to see inside of you, how far you can go, how much you can take, how much you are capable of, and what you can do and what you can't do,” Monegan said.

This is the academy’s largest class yet since the program started 24 years ago.

“There is no better feeling than walking across that stage, it’s unbelievable,” Cadet Jacob Taber said. “I came from sort of a negative product environment but now I’m going to be able to pull myself out.”

Together these teens provided nearly 12,000 hours of community service, and 85 of them were also able to earn their high school diplomas.

“I can’t believe this is happening, I never thought I’d make it so far,” Cadet Paseka Mata said with tears in her eyes.

For the cadets graduation is not the end, it’s the beginning.

Cadet Sonya Pirtle is from Selawik. She says she will take the skills she learned from AMYA back to her village where she will attend high school.

“I feel like I’ve changed physically and mentally and I’m not ready to go back to reality but I’m ready to face it all,” Pirtle said.

After graduation, all cadets take part in a yearlong post residential phase where graduates return to their communities and practice their life skills by continuing their education, entering the work place, or joining the military.

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