Facebook75Tweet0Pin0Submitted by Steven Friederich for Washington Youth AcademyOlympia teen Nikolai Shepherd said he wasn’t sure what to expect as he stood side-by-side with hundreds of other teens at the Washington Youth Academy in Bremerton, all hoping for a second chance at proving they could get the grades and change their attitudes about life.Cadet Nikolai Shepherd listens during English class at the Washington Youth Academy. Photo courtesy: Washington Youth AcademyThen, Shepherd was told to do push ups. A lot of push ups. And that was just the first day, which he said he felt like a “pioneer exploring a new world.”“As I was lying in bed on that first day, I remember Sgt. Borka saying, ‘Well, gentlemen. You just completed, Day Zero,” Shepherd said during his commencement speech, which is on YouTube. “I just laid there in awe knowing that one of the hardest days of my life didn’t even count toward my goal. It also changed my perspective and encouraged me. I had just completed this day: Day Zero. It showed me that my hard work was harder than I expected would get me through to who I truly wanted to be.”On June 17, Shepherd was one of 143 cadets to graduate from cycle 2017-1, one of nine cadets from Thurston County to complete the program.Cadet Maximilian Armajo works on a financial literacy exercise during a Junior Achievement drill for the Washington Youth Academy. Photo courtesy: Washington Youth AcademyThe school in Bremerton helps at-risk teens from each corner of the state, bringing students to live on campus for 22 weeks to help them recover missing credits so they can go back to high school and earn a diploma. Applications are now being accepted at mil.wa.gov/WYA for the Class of 2018-1, which starts Jan. 13, 2018.“”This is the beginning, not the end,” Shepherd said. “Even though the hardships were difficult, and sometimes funny, we wouldn’t have been able to overcome them without the help of our peers, our cadre and families.”Cadets from Lacey include Maximilian Armajo, Loie Black and Dalten Schmidt. Cadets from Olympia include Logan Berrington, Colin Chipman, Logan Moore, Nikolai Shepherd, Princess Taufete’e and James Thompson. In addition, Reyven Aparicio-Ferrer of Rochester returns to Rochester High School.Mari Pinto of Kennewick celebrates with Princess Taufete’e at the Washington Youth Academy. Photo courtesy: Washington Youth AcademyCadet Black of Lacey said that the Youth Academy gave her an opportunity to hit re-start on her life.“I made some bad choices when I was younger,” she said. “Today, I’m a completely new person.”She had a leadership role as part of her all-female platoon called the Eagles. She, like other cadets, also learned job skills like how to craft a resume and go on a job interview as well as life-coping mechanisms“I have so much to be grateful to the Academy for giving me this chance,” Black said.Cadet Berrington of Olympia said that he was especially proud to have completed a grueling all-day obstacle course called the Ranger Challenge, a voluntary exercise that put him through some of the hardest exercises and challenges he’s faced.“But I overcame it all – with support from the cadre and my peers,” he said.