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1st Class President Kirk ’22: Ensuring the Strength of the Class System

Noah Kirk '22 stands smiling with hands behind back.

Cadet Noah Kirk ’22 is the 1st Class president. He’s a double major—physics and math—and will commission into the Navy in spring 2022.—Photo by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Cadet Noah Kirk ’22 is the 1st Class president and, therefore, the cadet in charge of the General Committee. The GC is responsible for many moving parts related to the time-tested class system—one of the pillars of the VMI experience. Regular meetings include addressing any infractions not handled under the regimental or honor systems. The committee also spends significant time securing the strength of the Rat Line, as well as issues related to class functions, fundraisers, the Officer of the Guard Association, the Cadet Equity Association, and the Rat Disciplinary Committee. Although there is a great deal of responsibility on Kirk’s shoulders, he is grateful for a strong committee with members from the three upper classes.

This year, the GC set an additional goal to “return to normalcy,” Kirk said. When cadets left VMI last spring, they were “still wearing masks, still following all [COVID-19] protocols,” he said. In fall 2021, cadets “came back to a completely normal VMI. There wasn’t much of a transition period [at VMI].”

Kirk thinks the change is positive, and Corps morale is good overall. As president of the GC, Corps morale is also one of his main areas of concern.

One of the most challenging aspects of the GC is processing infractions. “We deal with some of our peers in kind of a negative sense. That is one of those difficult aspects of peer leadership,” Kirk said. “What I’ve learned … is you can be a professional when you need to be with your peers and treat them just like other cadets while [also] maintaining a good relationship with the majority of your class and garnering respect from people who understand … your job.”

For Kirk, his favorite part about VMI is having his best friends close to him. When he graduates in the spring, he’ll take memories and friendships with him for life. Ring Figure is one moment that stands out to Kirk: The entire class put their rings on together. “That was just a really, really cool bonding moment, everybody taking that big step together as a class in front of all of our parents and friends,” he said.

Most of his VMI memories aren’t one single occasion, though. “It’s just spending time with some of the closest people I’ve ever really met,” he explained. “My best friends in the world live two doors down from me or live in the same room as me. I’m very thankful for all the memories we’ve shared so far and really excited for the ones we’re going build this year and into the future.”

Kirk’s parents will also take a lot of memories and friends with them when he graduates. His mom cried on Matriculation Day—for Kirk and his older brother, Nathan ’19. “They knew it was going to be a struggle being VMI parents,” Kirk said, “but they’ve really taken to it. They’re both on the Parents Council, and they … live and breathe VMI at this point.”

His mother, Kirk said, has become best friends with the mother of one of his roommates. Sometimes she texts him, saying, “‘Oh, have you heard about this?’ And somehow, she’s getting information I haven’t gotten yet,” Kirk said, shaking his head a bit.

He first heard of VMI as a high school freshman when his brother toured the Institute. Later, he stayed in barracks for a lacrosse camp. “I felt a very strong sense of belonging,” he remembered. “I was drawn to the discipline and military lifestyle—the structured regimen.”

He looked at other colleges, including service academies and senior military colleges. In the end, he came away feeling VMI was “above and beyond” what he saw at other institutions.

“What I’ve learned ... is you can be a professional when you need to be with your peers and treat them just like other cadets while [also] maintaining a good relationship with the majority of your class and garnering respect from people who understand ... your job.”

Cadet Noah Kirk ’22, 1st Class president

VMI’s prestige encompasses academics, too. Kirk is a double major in physics and math. He came to VMI with a four-year Navy scholarship and wants to work on nuclear submarines. To achieve that goal, he checked out mechanical engineering, physics, and math majors. Physics appealed to him, particularly the observatory at McKethan Park. Later, he added his second major, math. Many of the courses overlap, and he said he isn’t adding much to his semesterly 18-and-a-half credit hour load.

“I love the physics and math departments,” Kirk said. “I’ve gotten the same level of academic mentorship that you would see in any other college. I don’t think the fact that VMI is a very structured and very military environment has changed the academics at all. I feel very strongly that we do have some of the best programs in the country.”

National rankings reflect his feelings about VMI’s academic strength, Kirk pointed out. VMI has consistently taken high spots in academics, overall college rankings, and other areas, like service, earnings after graduation, and quality of life after graduation.

For his capstone, Kirk is working in the observatory. “I feel very fortunate to do that. I’m going to be studying the polarization, magnetic field, and interstellar extinction of a star cluster,” he said.

Kirk will be looking at a group of several thousand stars, or an open cluster, named NGC 6633. The cluster is about 1,300 light-years away and has never been studied with the method Kirk is using, called polarimetry, explained Col. Greg Topasna, Ph.D., Kirk’s advisor and a professor in the Department of Astronomy and Physics. About half the data for the project is on hand, and Kirk will gather the other half by working with Topasna in the VMI observatory.

“It will involve a lot of computer time: Obtaining the images, measuring the starlight, researching the cluster and individual stars, and, of course, writing,” Topasna said. The VMI researchers are working with a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, who will also provide part of the data.

When Kirk matriculated, his brother was a 1st Class cadet—and a company commander. People knew Nathan ’19—and therefore knew his little brother. “People definitely held me to a standard because of that,” Kirk remembered. His brother was his uncle dyke—meaning Kirk’s dyke was one of his brother’s roommates. Inside the dykes’ room, the rats were treated the same by all the dykes. And outside the room, to his brother, “I was just another rat,” Kirk said.

This year, he’s got a busy schedule—double major, ROTC responsibilities, and serving as the 1st Class president. How does he balance it all? Some things he learned from his dyke. His dyke was also a double major and a company commander. He “stressed the importance of having a plan … managing my time, staying up to date on due dates and presentations,” Kirk remembered.

“I think it’s really important to remember that VMI is a school first. Everybody who comes here comes for a degree,” Kirk said. “I take my academics very seriously.” Through his years at VMI, he says he “appreciated the regimented lifestyle and structure. It gives you a good opportunity to learn how to schedule your time well and prepares you better for when you leave college and are busy in the real world.”

  • Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist