Constitution Day Event: A Review of the Historic and the Complex
LEXINGTON, Va., Sept. 22, 2021—On Monday, Sept. 20, the history department, in conjunction with the English department, sponsored a Constitution Day event supporting VMI’s emerging Constitutional history program. Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the U.S. Constitution on Sept. 17, 1787, is observed on post and throughout the nation each year, but this year’s event was held a few days later because Sept. 17 fell on a Friday.
Approximately 40 cadets attended the event, which was held in Marshall Hall and followed by a dinner.
Participants included members of the VMI Pre-Law Society, the VMI chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, the national history honors society, and cadets enrolled in a pilot course in the history department, the American Civic Experience. Cadet facilitators drawn from the ranks of Phi Alpha Theta and the Pre-Law Society led a series of discussions grounded in the results of a Constitutional knowledge assessment completed by the 4th Class.
“The majority of VMI graduates take an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States when they assume public office or when they are commissioned and promoted in the United States armed forces,” explained Col. Turk McCleskey, professor of history and Lt. Gen. John W. Knapp ’54 Chair for Academic Excellence. “It’s vital for those graduates to be well-informed about the complex document to which they’re swearing allegiance.”
Before the event, the Rat Mass completed an assessment on Constitutional literacy. “The quiz for rats is one way to measure the depth of cadet familiarity with the Constitution,” McCleskey explained.
The data from the knowledge assessment, as well as the results of the Constitution Day discussion, will help history department faculty refine the American Civic Experience course currently being taught by McCleskey; the data will also support the development of additional Constitution-related programming. Col. M. Houston Johnson V, professor of history and head of the department, believes that these efforts will “play an important role in furthering the Institute’s mission of producing educated, honorable men and women with a high sense of public service.”
“I am incredibly honored to have been involved with this conference,” said Ryan Fix ’23, a history major and a student in the American Civic Experience course. “In my opinion, it is our duty as VMI men and women to uphold the principles of our Constitution, whether we become officers or not. Patriotism and reverence for the American form of government is something I believe is lacking in today’s society, and I am proud to say that the cadets of VMI display no such problem from my experience.”
Agreeing with Fix’s assessment was Eric Mulcahy ’23, also a history major. “This event was quite special in that it was a discussion on what we have learned previously about the Constitution, such as our preconceived notions and things learned throughout grade school as well as what courses at VMI so far have taught us the most about the Constitution,” he commented.
Currently, the history department is seeking candidates for a Constitutional historian, who would come on board for the 2022–23 academic year. The individual hired for the position will not only teach a class in Constitutional history but also build a program with speakers, symposia, and other materials, focusing on the Constitution.
Mary Price and Eric Moore
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VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE