Remarks to Class of 1982 Reunion
8 September 2007
Members of the Class of 1982, spouses, friends. Good evening and welcome back to VMI. I’ve always thought that the twenty-fifth reunion was a very special event as it brings together alumni who are now well established in their careers, in their families, and – in most cases – have in sight the high goals they set for themselves in those formative days here at VMI.
It’s been 29 years since you signed the matriculation book and became VMI cadets. If you are like me … it seems like just yesterday that we wore cadet gray, fell into ranks at the last drawn-out sound of the bugle, marched to class, pulled guard duty, cheered for our teams, went on military maneuvers, experienced long exams, or found a few moments to be with classmates in the PX. I am certain when two or more of you get together, like all VMI alumni, the result is a session filled with stories of memorable professors, the enduring “Rat Line,” encounters with Commandants and TAC Officers, parades over frozen ground or in the wilting heat, dinners at “Club Crozet,” snow blowing in on you at night through leaky Barracks windows, Hops and parties, and much, much more. Twenty-five years from now, I am certain that today’s Rats will be sharing the same stories because, although VMI has changed and will continue to change in some outward aspects, the overall experience, the fundamentals, and the traditions are the same. And, I add,… so is the spirit.
Three hundred and sixty-four (364) of you signed the VMI Matriculation Book in August 1978, which marked the beginning of VMI’s 139th year. After being addressed by then First Captain Councill C. Rudolph, Class of 1979, you met the Cadre and began an intensive training program under the watchful eye of VMI’s new Commandant, Col. Ernest Edgar, III ’58. Col. Edgar was promoted and reassigned late the following year, and he was succeeded by Col. Harold B. Snyder, Jr. ’56. So, you had two Commandants in your four years. The VMI administration was headed by Lt. Gen. Richard L. Irby ‘39, who ended his 11-year tenure as Superintendent when you were Second Classmen. He was succeeded by General Sam Sims Walker, ’45, VMI alumnus and West Point graduate.
The Barracks that you entered was very much like today’s Barracks … workmen busy everywhere. Major renovations were under way to install new plumbing, new electrical services, replace the “Old Sinks” with new bathrooms, and make improvements to individual cadet rooms. The large number of cadets in the Corps caused over-crowding in the tight barracks space, and it was addressed a number of times in The Cadet newspaper. There was much talk of replacing the old furniture in Barracks with so-called new “modular furniture,” which did not go down well with the conservative-minded Corps. Eventually, once cadets saw that the furniture was even more “Spartan” than the old furniture had been, it was accepted. Space in Crozet Hall was also inadequate to handle the large Corps, and the food service, in the hands of Cleaves Food Service, received mixed reports. Down the hill, construction was starting on what would become “Cameron Hall,” a facility that would replace “The Pit.”
There is no class history of your class in the 1982 BOMB, but the record of your cadetship is written in the memory of those who knew you, watched your development over four years, taught you, and coached you. For those who want to get a real insight into life in the Barracks in those days, you need only read the “Dartboard” and “Post Number 5” in The Cadet of those years, or look at the clever and revealing cartoons of John Holloway, Class of 1981.
Those were the days of Saturday classes and marching to class. The annual VMI Symposium brought national speakers and national attention to the Institute. Ross Perot addressed the Corps in J.M. Hall in 1980 and the concert in honor of Col. Herbert N. Dillard, Jr. ’34, featured cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona was the graduation speaker for the Class of 1981, when graduation ceremonies were held out-of-doors in front of Preston Library.
Founders Day 1978, witnessed the Marshall Statue dedication. And another first, which is now a tradition, was the first Rat Orientation at New Market, on 7 September 1980…, and a march through the town inspired by a great friend of VMI, former Secretary of the Army John O. Marsh, Jr. VMI celebrated its 140th Founders Day in Richmond in November 1979 with a parade for Governor John N. Dalton and the announcement of the kick-off of its highly successful fund-raising effort called “The VMI Campaign.” The Regimental Band played in President Reagan’s Inaugural Parade. It performed again for President Reagan at the Yorktown Celebration, and the Corps marched at the inauguration of Governor Charles S. Robb in 1982.
These were especially good times for athletic teams at VMI. In 1979, the indoor track team won the state title, defeating the Hokies and the Wahoos. In that year, the football team defeated William and Mary, 7-3. The next year, the Keydets beat William and Mary again, 13-10, and Marshall University, 17-3. During the next two years, VMI athletic teams had exciting victories: The VMI track team won the Southern Conference championship several times. In the fall of 1981, VMI beat Army in football 14-7 at West Point (the first time VMI had ever defeated the military academy) and managed to kidnap “Spartacus”, the Army mule.
Your graduation ceremony was the first to be held in “Cameron Hall” on 15 May 1982. Your valedictory address was given by Cadet William S. Warren. Kenneth Lee Yates won the 1st Jackson Hope Medal and the Cincinnati Medal, and Stephen P. Dobler received the 2nd Jackson Hope. Out of the 364 of you who matriculated in 1987, a total of 256 graduated... and recently inaugurated Virginia Governor Robb, a former Marine, was your Commencement speaker.
What a fine record you have achieved since those eventful cadet days and your graduation. I have the results here of a quick and very unscientific study of the accomplishments of members of your class: … 105 of you became businessmen, managers, investment professionals, bankers, or CEOs; 53 became engineers or scientists; 40 made the military a career; 16 entered government service; 13 became construction contractors; 11 became physicians, dentists, or pharmacists; 10 became teachers or professors; 9 became attorneys; 4 became pilots; 4 became law enforcement professionals; and, 3 became clergymen. One member of your class, Darryl Horne, was appointed to the VMI Board of Visitors. Of the 364 who matriculated, 217 served in the armed forces, which was an impressive number for our all-volunteer military. And since you are still young, the coming years will record additional great accomplishments … I am sure … as you pursue your goals and dreams. Who knows what the record will be when you gather here for your 50th reunion! I repeat… what a wonderful record you have already set. My congratulations!
A class reunion is a time for reconnecting with old friends and for recalling distant cadet days, but it is also a time to reconnect with today’s Institute and today’s Corps. This means learning about where the Institute is today and where it is heading. I would like to take the few remaining moments to bring you up-to-date on the life of the Institute and to let you know of our plans for the future.
Even the casual observer of the VMI Post will see immediately that there are changes taking place in almost every corner of the Institute. The most obvious of these changes are the many renovations to our ageing buildings and other facilities. Not so obvious are modifications in the academic, military, and athletic programs. VMI is changing… but VMI continues to be dedicated to producing, in the words of its founders, “… honorable youths … an honor to our country and our state, objects of honest pride to their instructors, and fair specimens of citizen-soldiers….”
The Institute continues to stand on the bedrock of personal honor as described in VMI’s historic Honor Code. And in its fundamental expectations and requirements, the VMI Honor System and the Honor Court remain as you knew them, albeit with some procedurial changes. For example, today there is a different organization of the Court, including a “jury” drawn from across the Corps, with a smaller, permanent, court. Although the organization of the Court has changed, there have been no changes in the standards or in the penalties: VMI still has a single-sanction honor system.
We draw our matriculants from the general population, so the problems of society and other schools are our problems as well, but those charged with administering the Honor System insist on high standards and work diligently to make certain that our cadets, and especially the New Cadets, understand those standards, the reasons for them, and the serious consequences of not upholding them. Education continues to be the key to success. The VMI Honor System is the most cherished of all our systems, and we must continue to work tirelessly to ensure its integrity and effectiveness. I am personally involved, but allow and support the Honor Court in its administration of the system across the Corps.
Many of the physical changes and much of the transformation that you see around you can be characterized by the word “improvement.” The time had come – perhaps it was past time – to improve many of the facilities in which we conduct our basic programs at VMI, be they academic, military, physical, or athletic. This kind of change, however, must be guided by careful analysis of needs and strengths, and by a plan. Our plan is something that we have called “Vision 2039,” and it is this plan that is serving as the roadmap for raising academic and military standards, programmatic improvements, construction projects, and new goals for VMI in the 21st century. You have read about “Vision 2039” in a pamphlet that we mailed to alumni and friends entitled Vision 2039 – Focus on Leadership or in articles in the VMI Alumni Review. Or you may have observed some of its more tangible results on VMI’s webpage. For the seventh consecutive year, VMI has been named one of the top Public Liberal Arts Colleges in America by U.S. News and World Report, and in the most recent survey, we are ranked right next to the United States Military and Naval Academies.
In addition, our engineering programs are nationally ranked. We continue to hire bright and highly qualified instructors who add energy and knowledge to our faculty and offer new courses and areas of study within our purposely limited number of 14 major fields of study. And along with a commitment to a small number of key majors, VMI maintains its commitment to small class sections and small faculty/student ratios (today, about 12 to 1). Our cadets have the benefit of the same academic experience with their instructors that you benefited from when you were cadets. All of our faculty members teach, and 97 percent of them have the Ph.D. or terminal degree. I believe this is a key to the high level of satisfaction that cadets enjoy with their academic experience, and it is a key to the high level of preparation they possess upon graduation. I am dedicated to preserving it.
Last year should be called VMI’s “Year of Assessment.” Like most other colleges and universities in the United States, VMI must meet rigorous standards for accreditation by outside educational accrediting agencies. Our agency is the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools (or SACS). Every ten years, colleges accredited by SACS must undergo a lengthy and demanding Self-Study in order to secure program validation and reaccreditation for another decade. I am pleased to report that VMI passed with flying colors.
This Self-Study paid special attention to the Institute’s Core Curriculum – those courses that all cadets must take as a common foundation for a VMI education. It was the first review of the Core Curriculum in fifteen years. The result of the study was the creation of a Quality Enhancement Plan which outlines a reformulation of our Core Curriculum around the theme of “the Nucleus of Effective Citizenship and Leadership.” Among its new requirements is a mandatory 3-credit course in leadership theory that the entire Corps will take early in their cadetship to reinforce the leadership experiences they acquire in the barracks, on the drill field, and on the athletic fields. Courses in Culture and Civilization, undergraduate research, writing across the curriculum, and choice of a biology, physics, or chemistry course in the rat year are other changes. Likewise, the six-year re-accreditation of the Computer Science Program and six-year re-accreditations of our Engineering programs by the American Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET) were completed in splendid fashion.
Last year we also completed an eighteen month-long Self-Study for accreditation by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In May, we received notification of full certification. All these studies and their results were integrated seamlessly into our “Vision 2039” initiatives, thereby ensuring that all programs work together for a common result. The core of “Vision 2039,” is: “to enhance cadet leadership development.” All that we strive to do, is aimed at producing educated, honorable, and steadfast leaders … for every walk of life…for every career. Our efforts to achieve this high goal range from the small … to the very large: from adjustment in the daily schedule of cadets …to the creation of a Center for Leadership and Ethics, a $21 million facility which is now going up behind Smith Hall. The Center’s program will include the very best of leadership symposia, conferences, and other initiatives that build on enhanced academic, military, and academic programs.
The building program portion of “Vision 2039” includes a long list of projects – some recently completed, some underway as we speak, and some on the drawing boards. Col. Chalkley, our VMI Chief of Staff, presented a detailed briefing on these projects yesterday, so I won’t review them at this time. But, I would like to mention the work that is being done to expand Kilbourne Hall to provide our ROTC departments with the finest classrooms and laboratories of any college in the nation. This has much to do with our related “Vision 2039” goal of increasing commissioning at VMI to 70 percent of the graduation class. In the past three years we have advanced from 34 percent to 53 percent, which is an extraordinary accomplishment during time of war. Accepting a commission is not required of our graduates, but VMI prepares all of its graduates for successful military service in the active forces, the National Guard, and other Reserve components of the U.S. military. We are encouraging our graduates to serve a few years in the military and then enter into their chosen civilian careers or graduate school.
On the 20th of August, the Class of 2011 matriculated at 465 strong, which makes it the largest class in VMI history. Applications continue to rise along with the reputation of your school. Our response to this demand, and to the need for VMI to play its appropriate role within the community of Virginia colleges, is to plan for a future Corps of 1500 cadets,... or a growth of 100 – 150 cadets. To accommodate this number, and to relieve the overcrowding that now exists in the old and new barracks, we are currently engaged in building a third barracks. It will match, in architectural style, the existing barracks, and will contain Lejeune Hall’s PX and bookstore. Once the new 3rd Barracks has been completed in 2008, the existing Old and New Barracks will be renovated and upgraded in all their mechanical systems. When the project has been completed in 2010, the entire VMI Barracks complex will look very much as it looks today – Spartan in nature, but overcrowding will have been eased and the quality of the facilities will have been substantially improved.
We are in the midst of $185 million of construction at the Institute. Major improvements have been to the football stadium named for P. Wesley Foster, Jr., Class of 56; new baseball facilities: Gray-Minor Stadium and Paulette Hall, named for Senator Elmon Gray ‘48, Gil Minor ‘63, and Bill Paulette ’69; a massive renovation and enlarged Crozet Hall; a renovated Mallory Hall, a major renovation of Jackson Memorial Hall, including two floors dedicated to the VMI Museum, and total renovation of Nichols Engineering Building and the newly dedicated J. M. Morgan Annex. In December, we will dedicate the Cocke Hall Annex as King Hall in honor of Coach Clark King who led the Physical Education Department for many years. And there are many other facilities, including much-needed parking lots, a new Buildings and Grounds facility dedicated as Hinty Hall at VMI’s subpost (Lackey Farm), and increased acreage for military ROTC training at McKethan Park.
I am much encouraged with the outlook for our athletic teams. Not only do we have superb new facilities, but we have superb new coaches. The baseball team last year had the most wins in VMI’s history. Basketball is getting stronger. Football is rebuilding. Swimming won two Conference championships. And, importantly,… VMI won the 2006-2007 Big South Conference Institutional Sportsmanship Award for the second consecutive year. These accomplishments and team improvements will soon show results for which all alumni will be proud. I am convinced that we are on the edge of a “decade of excellence” in our athletic programs… and we will win the VMI way.
Today, VMI is a place of change. There is a healthy momentum and spirit as we build on our history and traditions. As you return to the Institute over the coming years, you will see our long-range plan become reality. Improvement never ends, of course, but when we reach the final goals of “Vision 2039,” the Institute will enter its third century fully prepared to meet the needs of generations of future cadets… and will be a clear leader in American higher education.
Pamela and I are committed to an all-out effort in the years ahead to leave VMI – your school – positioned strongly for the future, and to serve our cadets, faculty, and staff efficiently and effectively. Thank you for your dedication and continuing support.