This was originally posted in The Cadet, the independent voice of the VMI Corps and Alumni since 1871 and is shared here by permission.
Welcome Back to the Old Corps
To the families of matriculants:
This is a difficult day for you. As you leave your daughters and sons to face the struggles and challenges that they are about to meet, take heart in the fact that you too are about to become a part of the VMI family. Today your sons and daughters leave you and you will have little contact with them in the coming weeks. For those of you out of state, as I am, it will be difficult to come and visit. But you can lean on the other parents for support. You cannot imagine now all the ways this community will aid you in your time of need, nor can you estimate how you might be able to give a helping hand. You will soon be glued to a computer scouring photos for tell-tale signs of your child. This is the greatest community of alumni and parents in the country, and we welcome you to it.
To the Matriculants of the Rat-Mass of 2023+3:
You will now embark on your journey to earn the right to call yourselves VMI Cadets. There is one single and all-important theme that must resonate with every one of you given the divisiveness we see in America today and the investigations, media scrutiny and other trials we have endured at VMI – and in some cases still endure.
You are all now here on Post. You have come from all over the country and from around the world. You have come from various economic backgrounds and from different levels of education. Before today, you have had every reason to be divided.
That ends today.
You will leave your friends and families and will only have each other. The person to your left and to your right will have your back and you will have theirs. They are your only support for the coming trials.
You come to VMI from a world focused on the individual manifest in “I” and articulated in such phrases as “What I need is…”, “What I want out of…”, etc. In some cases, you’ve been taught that the world must adapt to you.
You are often taught that you must change your behavior to “be prepared to enter the world of business or adapt to today’s society”. You come from a world where professors, teachers, administrators, and others refer to you as “my” students. You should never hear anyone at VMI refer to you as “their” cadet if they truly embrace the ethos of VMI.
As you will hear from your cadre and should hear for all those you encounter at VMI, the reference is to “our” cadets, or in the case of cadre and Dykes, “our Rats” as we are a family.
In the past year, outside forces, and some inside, who do not share or cherish the VMI experience and ethos, as only those who lived it can, have sought to change the VMI Family from “we” to “me”. They do not understand, appreciate, or support that we are VMI.
We agree with Governor Youngkin’s words from his Inaugural speech that “Our common path forward is with our deep and abiding respect for individual freedom.” For The Cadet that is freedom of speech. For the VMI Family it means, as the Governor stated, “we must bind the wounds of division. Restore trust. Find common cause for the common good. And strengthen the spirit of Virginia.” For us, we must strengthen the spirit of VMI.
Just as Governor Younkin stated that the United States and Virginia have had “chapters of great injustice” so has VMI, but, as he referred to “barrier breakers” in Virginia’s past, VMI has barrier breakers like John Daniels or The Cadet’s own James Hanney. Class of 1956, Hanney, as
Editor-in-Chief of The Cadet, wrote the first Editorial condemning Virginia’s decision to not end segregation and first called for the integration of VMI. He was fired by the VMI administration on the day of publication. Jere Reals ’56 replaced him as Editor-in-Chief and continued the dialogue, personally covering the Selma Riots on the ground. They were the voice of the Corps as The Cadet is today.
Throughout VMI’s history lasting change has not come from the Commandant’s Office or the administration in Smith Hall, but from an empowered Corps of Cadets who are given the authority and the responsibility. The Class of ’23 has the responsibility to lead.
To the Old Corps:
Congratulations to the Class of 2023 for making it to their First Class year. You now have the privileges you have waited for for so long and the responsibilities of being Dykes will soon be upon you. As you well know, it is the First Class who historically decides when Rats are sufficiently bonded that they can breakout and become a class. It is not for bureaucrats or others who do not live among us and share our daily trials and triumphs. Now the torch has been passed to you to safeguard the traditions of our beloved Mother I.
Congratulations to the Class of 2024. Brother Rats, Ring Figure is this year. But in the meantime, we are NCO’s now, and as Chesty Puller said, “The NCO is the backbone of the Corps”. This is a responsibility I am confident we will fulfill and surpass our expectations.
Class of 2025, welcome to your third class year. If you’re thinking that last year was the hardest you will have, then think again. People will say that now you have nothing to look forward to until Second class year… and they are right. But for the meantime, you will face differing and difficult challenges and you will need your BR’s and they will need you for support. This is when you will meet most of your fellow Thirds and get more involved with clubs. Focus on these things and hone your skills and excel as you know you are capable.
It is no secret that we are in a time of change. Internal and external forces that do not understand our traditions and our motivations seek to change them for various reasons. To borrow a metaphor from G.K Chesterton, reformers are often like people who look at a wall and, not knowing its purpose, tear it down. The wise reformer says “Do not tear down simply because you do not understand. Before tearing it down, understand why it was put up in the first place”. C.S Lewis added onto this. He said that progress is not simply moving forward but rather moving forward in the right direction. If you find that you have started a physics or math problem and have somehow messed up, the most logical step is not to keep going but to stop and go back. VMI is changing but in doing so we have lost many traditions that are worth keeping. Traditions that have purpose should not have been torn down and we have seen the consequences of their absence, the biggest of which is lack of unity. We all chose this school for one reason or the other, but we cannot let it be changed beyond recognition by capricious tyrants that are ignorant to the VMI spirit and what produces it. We must decide as a Corps to be unified as we are meant to be and not divided as we have been. Class of ‘23, it’s your show; you have the reins. Lead us and lead us well and those under you will follow.