The cheer went something like this: "Whoooaaaa."
It was a shout-out of sorts, a show of respect to mothers, fathers, teachers and shift leaders who worked with members of the 15th graduating class of the Freestate Challenge program, a military-style academy run by the Maryland National Guard for young men and women.
Parents and teachers responded yesterday by jumping to their feet and giving the 92 cadets - many of them former high school dropouts - a standing ovation. All this before the cadets had even received their diplomas.
"You are somebody because God doesn't make junk," said Chaplin Ronald Martin-Minnich, director of the Freestate Challenge program, in his address to relatives and cadets at the Aberdeen Proving Ground.
His message was supported by television and film actor John Amos, a former member of the New Jersey National Guard.
"There is nothing on this planet that is greater than yourselves," said Amos, who played the adult Kunta Kinte in the television series "Roots." "You can overcome any obstacle. But if you think you can't, think back on the discipline, the discipline, the discipline that you had here."
Young adults from Maryland and Washington who sign up for the Freestate Challenge program are immersed in a military-style residential environment for 22 weeks. They practice drills, compete in sports, learn about trades and careers, and take academic courses in order to receive their high school diplomas. After the program, they continue working with a mentor for up to a year.
"It's important because what it is doing is helping young people from all over the state get a high school diploma and get the skills they will need to get a job," said Col. Howard S. Freelander, executive officer in the Maryland National Guard.
Parents such as Sophia Murphy of St. Paul, Minn., know the value of the Freestate Challenge program. They've seen their children go from lost and confused to focused and challenged.
"This program has given my daughter direction and taught her how to be responsible," Murphy said of Shamelle Jackson, 18, who dropped out of high school because she didn't see the value of algebra and English. Today, Jackson is eyeing a career in communications. She plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force to earn money for her college education.
One of three cadets honored yesterday for having the highest scores on their General Educational Development exams was Jay Dowling, 17, of Clinton. Dowling said the Freestate Challenge program helped him decide to become a computer programmer.
Amos said the program would have benefited one person he knows. "I wish it had been around when I was a father on `Good Times,'" he said, referring to his son, J. J., in the 1970s television series. "Had I known, I would have sent J. J. to it."