MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE, ALBANY, Ga. -- During a morning ceremony held here, Dec. 6, 19 young men and women received a title that will give them cause to hold their heads a little higher and stick their chests out a little further. They received the title "Young Marine."
The ceremony, held at the base theater, gave family and friends a chance to watch proudly as their child's 13-week experience reached its pinnacle.
"This is the best day I've had since I started," said Mercedes Willis, a 13-year-old whose loss of her father caused her attitude to change for the worst. "After today, I can look back and see all the things I've accomplished and how much I've changed."
This sentiment was not uncommon amongst the graduates, but the parents seemed to have the highest level of satisfaction throughout the day's events.
"I've seen a tremendous change in my daughter," said Lynn Willis, who hoped the program would give her daughter a sense of hope again. "After the loss of her father, Mercedes was overcome by hate and lost her desire to do anything productive. I can honestly say that there has been a big change in her personality."
While the Young Marines program is known for changing the attitudes and lives of children who have strayed from the path intended for them by their parents, there are also children involved who simply want to be a part of what takes place during the process.
"I joined because I'm pretty sure I want to be in the military when I get older," said Justin Lewis, who was meritoriously promoted during the ceremony. "Now that it's all over I know I can do whatever I put my mind to as long as I don't give up."
Regardless of why the children join the program, the end result seems to be the same for those that stick with it.
"The ones that try definitely see a difference when they graduate," said Brandisha Keys, an Albany State University student who volunteers with the Young Marines program. "Whether it's manners, respect, or a sense of responsibility, these children walk away a step ahead of their peers when it comes to overall success in life."