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2022 Graduation and Commissioning

2022 Commencement Ceremony

2:30:54

Degrees Conferred to 318 of Class of 2022

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85 Encourages Cadets to Hold on to Honor

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, noted that when the Class of 2022 matriculated Aug. 18, 2018, with 519 members, it was the largest matriculating class to date. From that original group, 318 graduated, and 187 (56%) of them commissioned into the armed services May 15.

Wins used his time at the podium to reflect on the unusual circumstances faced by the Class of 2022, one of the few classes to endure the full effects of a global pandemic. Their cadetship was punctuated with challenges, as there were restrictions placed on their education in the virtual classroom, physical training had limitations, sports seasons were rescheduled or postponed, internships went virtual or were canceled, and even military training drastically evolved.

Wins noted that things began to return to a more normal cadet experience for the Class of 2022 during the past year, when they not only succeeded in completing their own cadetships, but also in running a professional Rat Line for the Class of 2025. “A crisis brought on by COVID-19 stared you down, but you succeeded as adaptable leaders,” said Wins.

Wins concluded his speech by congratulating the graduates and encouraging them to hold on to the concept of honor, the very bedrock of VMI. “People will measure your character by a high standard because you are a VMI graduate. Embrace the heritage of those that have successfully followed this narrow path. Strive to preserve and enhance the foundation of honor you live by,” closed Wins.

Valedictorian Speaks of Honor, Integrity, and Decency

Christopher Hulburt ’22, peer-elected valedictorian of the Class of 2022, majored in history with minors in literary studies and Spanish. He served as president of VMI’s Omicron Delta Kappa Circle, was a peer consultant at the writing center, was Company G executive officer, a member of Phi Alpha Theta and Sigma Delta Pi, and a prosecutor on the Honor Court. Hulburt addressed his brother rats by talking about the values that brought them all to VMI, and the moments that kept them there. “Unique individuals come to VMI, those who are eager, confident, and ultimately naïve,” he said, followed by laughter from the audience. He stated that students are drawn to the Institute by words like honor, courage, and duty, but quickly learn that VMI is an unusual place that offers unique challenges. He acknowledged that their cadetship has been marked by vocal critics questioning the system that defines their daily lives at VMI. “In a time when several hundred of our peers in Colorado Springs, Annapolis, and West Point have collectively admitted to violating their honor, we have remained steadfast in our commitment to honesty, academic integrity, and responsibility,” he declared, to a loud roar of applause and cheers.

Chris Hulburt ’22, valedictorian, smiles behind podium.

Chris Hulburt ’22, valedictorian, smiles as he shares fond memories of his cadetship during his speech in Cameron Hall.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Hulburt continued by sharing the short but meaningful moments that kept the class at VMI. Many were funny, and helped deal with the stress that comes with being a cadet. Some were poignant and awe inspiring. Some provided a sense of accomplishment, some a sense of fulfillment, and some provided small pits in their stomachs. He summarized, “We came to VMI for many reasons, but we stayed for one another. Let us meet society’s loudest critics with the decency, care, and devotion that we have shown one another.”

In closing Hulburt shared that the last year has been challenging and grievous. He mourned the loss of his father. He revealed that he keeps a list on his phone of hundreds of names of those who have offered support to him throughout the year. “Whenever I feel the need for encouragement, I look at the names on the list and think of you. I take considerable pride in calling you my brother rats, and look forward to marveling at your accomplishments.”

Guest Speaker Shares What Makes a World-Class Leader

Noah Kirk ’22, Class of 2022 president, introduced the commencement speaker, James “Jim” Kavanaugh, co-founder and chief executive officer of World Wide Technology, a technology company employing nearly 7,500 people. For the past 11 years, WWT has been listed as one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, and Kavanaugh has been highly rated on several Glassdoor CEO rankings.

Jim Kavanaugh, World Wide Technology CEO, addresses the Class of 2022 during the VMI commencement ceremony.

Jim Kavanaugh, World Wide Technology chief executive officer, addresses the Class of 2022 during the VMI commencement ceremony May 16.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

Kavanaugh graduated from Saint Louis University and was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic team. He was a chairman and founder of Saint Louis Football Club, a team in the United Soccer League. He now is an investor owner in the Saint Louis City Soccer Club, a new Major League Soccer franchise. In addition to supporting the athletic community, Kavanaugh is very active in the nonprofit community. He served as president of the board for St. Patrick Center, an organization serving the homeless in Missouri. He has led very successful campaigns for the American Cancer Society, allowing the renovation of a home-away-from-home for cancer patients and their caregivers. Other organizations Kavanaugh has supported include the ALS Association, Toys for Tots, Junior Achievement, and United Way.

Kavanaugh spoke about what it takes to build a world-class life and to become a world-class leader. He challenged the cadets to think about what they consider to be their next phase in life. “Is it a job, a career, or a calling?” he asked. “Ask yourself, what are your goals, values and behaviors; write them down and reflect on them daily,” he advised.

Kavanaugh also warned the cadets never to underestimate the importance of hard work and perseverance. “The harder I worked, the luckier I got,” he joked, but the point was taken seriously. He continued to say that grit and determination got him through hard times.

He advised his audience to always be courageous and true. “Stand up for yourself and for those around you.” He warned that being a leader is not always easy and advised the cadets to learn how to have difficult but constructive and productive conversations. “Take chances, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, and don’t let your setbacks crush you; this is how you learn and grow. Remain humble and grounded.”

Kavanaugh concluded his speech by challenging the cadets to give back and make a positive impact. He noted that there is a contagious effect of good deeds that transcends the world.

Awards Presented

Three awards are traditionally given at VMI’s May commencement exercises. The First Jackson-Hope Medal for highest attainment in scholarship, accompanied by the Commander Harry Millard Mason Academic Proficiency Award, went to Joseph Malazo ’22, an international studies major who earned a minor in national security and commissioned into the Navy.

Receiving the Second Jackson-Hope Medal, accompanied by the Col. Sterling Murray Heflin 1916 Academic Proficiency Award, was John Delaney ’22, an English major with a triple concentration in literary studies, philosophy, and rhetoric and writing.

Rachael Dickenson ’22 received the Society of the Cincinnati Medal, which recognizes efficiency of service and excellence of character. The Society of the Cincinnati Medal is accompanied by the Richard J. Marshall and Sumter L. Lowry Awards.

Commencement concluded with the incoming regimental commander relieving the Class of 2022 of their duties as they tossed their gloves in the air.

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2022 Joint Commissioning Ceremony

1:15:05

ROTC Commissions Nearly 200

New Officers Encouraged to Put Service Over Self

Nearly 200 young men and women, most of them VMI cadets, commissioned into the armed services in Cameron Hall May 15 in the annual ROTC Joint Commissioning Ceremony. The ceremony was also livestreamed for family and friends who could not attend the event in person.

The four commissioning officers who administered the oath of office were Army Lt. Gen. David G. Bassett, a 1988 graduate of the University of Virginia, who serves as the director of the Defense Contract Management Agency, headquartered at Fort Lee, Virginia; Marine Corps Gen. Eric Smith, a 1987 graduate of Texas A&M, who is the 36th assistant commandant of the Marine Corps; Navy Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander, Naval Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, a 1983 graduate of Old Dominion University; and Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chief of staff of the Air Force and a 1984 graduate of Texas Tech.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, welcomed those in attendance and thanked the ROTC departments, faculty, staff, family members, and guests who supported and encouraged the cadets throughout their time at VMI. He noted that the ceremony was the culmination of four or more years of intense work on the part of each cadet, while marking the beginning of a life of service to the nation. “Moreover, it is the fulfillment of one of the central purposes of the Virginia Military Institute: The preparation and education of citizen-soldiers,” said Wins. Wins shared his experiences after commissioning as a young officer. “My life was soon filled with exacting missions, tough training, rapidly changing responsibilities, assignments around the world, attendance at outstanding professional military schools, and service under remarkable leaders. Above all, I became part of a great team of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and service families. You, too, will come to cherish these same experiences,” he reflected.

Wins closed by congratulating the cadets. “The Institute could not be prouder of you. Our country is fortunate to have more citizen-soldiers and leaders like yourselves.”

Army Lt. Gen. Bassett Commissions 114

Lt. Gen. David G. Bassett was introduced by Maj. Corey Weiss, VMI assistant professor of military science. Bassett addressed the Army cadets by assuring them that there are a range of ways to contribute their skills to the Army and to the nation, and that each one would make a difference. He reflected that the world is experiencing uncertain times and as junior officers, they would lead the military. He told cadets, “Your soldiers will take care of you, but they won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” He continued, “Caring is not weakness, caring demonstrates strength.” Bassett then addressed the family members in attendance and encouraged them to continue the support they have shown their cadets. He quoted the late Gen. Ray Odierno, “The strength of our nation is our Army. The strength of our Army is our soldiers, and strength of our soldiers is our families.” He then administered the oath of office to 114 cadets, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

Michael Hoffman ’22 shakes hands with Col. David Gray in front of American flag.

Michael Hoffman ’22 shakes hands with Col. David Gray during the individual ceremony for Army commissioning in Marshall Hall May 15.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

According to Capt. Colin J. Reynolds, VMI assistant professor of military science, four commissioning cadets stand out as exceptional leaders: Gavin Bryce Bowman ’22, Thomas A. Chelednik III ’22, Rachael A. Dickenson ’22, and Christopher H. Soo ’22. “They are each a distinguished military graduate, a distinction reserved for the top 20% of all cadets in the nation, and they each excelled in academic, physical, and military proficiency,” said Reynolds.

Bowman was a platoon leader in Company C and a prosecutor on VMI’s Honor Court. He is the top cadet branched armor and is the most academically proficient cadet in the military science curriculum. “VMI provides an atmosphere to refine leadership skills and teaches you how to care for other people, which goes a long way in leadership positions,” said Bowman. He is a biology major, a distinguished graduate, and was pinned by a family member, who is a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel.

Chelednik served as Company C commander for the 2021-22 academic year and was primarily responsible for planning and executing training events to prepare junior cadets prior to attending ROTC Advanced Camp. “I decided to join the Army through ROTC because I wanted to pursue a career in which I could look back with feelings of pride, fulfillment, and satisfaction,” said Chelednik. When asked what he would advise incoming cadets he replied, “Surround yourself with people who push you and make you stronger. Seek out those who are better than you, watch what they do, and model them.” He majored in international studies, double minored in national security and Arabic, and is a distinguished graduate. His parents pinned him.

Dickenson is the top female cadet and No. 8 overall in the VMI Army ROTC program. She is an NCAA cross-country and track athlete and achieved the highest score of any female in this year’s graduating class on the Army Combat Fitness Test. She is also the top cadet from the program who branched Corps of Engineers. She has a family legacy of VMI graduates, including her father, Glenn Kevin Dickenson ’90; sister, Sarah E. Dickenson ’18; and brother, John C. Dickenson ’20. “We each came to VMI for our own reasons, not specifically to follow in our father’s footsteps, as much as we love and admire him,” explained Dickenson. She double majored in civil engineering and biology with a minor in Spanish. She received the Society of the Cincinnati Medal, which recognizes efficiency of service and excellence of character. The Society of the Cincinnati Medal is accompanied by the Richard J. Marshall and Sumter L. Lowry Awards. Her father and mother pinned her.

Soo is the executive officer for Company A, which is responsible for training new cadets. He is the No. 2 cadet in the VMI Army ROTC program and the No. 7 cadet nationally. He aspires to go into special operations civil affairs. “Everything the alumni say about VMI helping you endure strife is true. Enduring the hardships in the Rat Line and the monotony of cadet life will help you maintain your composure when those around you lose theirs. That’s your time to become the citizen-soldier, the leader into which VMI has molded you,” stated Soo. He majored in modern languages and cultures (Spanish) and minored in Asian studies. He is this year’s winner of the Adolfo Ponzanelli Award, which is presented to a 1st Class cadet for excellence in the study of modern languages and cultures. The honor of pinning him went to his two rats.

Marine Corps Gen. Smith Commissions 19

Gen. Eric Smith was introduced by Col. Travis Homiak ’95, Naval ROTC commanding officer. Smith spoke about integrity and moral character. “Your integrity will be tested on the battlefield. Don’t return home without your honor,” he stressed. “Wear your moral armor, carry that shield with honor, and return from combat carrying it.” He then asked family members in attendance to “hold these new Marines to a moral and ethical standard that is almost unattainable.” He then administered the oath of office to 19 cadets, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

Gen. Eric M. Smith offers remarks and administers the oath for graduating cadets commissioning into the U.S. Marine Corps as be stands behind podium in Cameron Hall.

Gen. Eric M. Smith offers remarks and administers the oath for graduating cadets commissioning into the U.S. Marine Corps May 15.—VMI Photo by H. Lockwood McLaughlin.

According to Homiak, two cadets who commissioned into the Marine Corps stood out among their peers: Luke Nicksic ’22 and Nathan Martin ’22. “Nicksic is the definition of a professional who constantly strives for self-improvement,” said Homiak. “As a Marine Corps scholarship recipient, he achieved an outstanding cumulative GPA of 3.87. Outside of classes, Nicksic maintained the highest attributes of a future Marine Corps officer. He was on the NCAA wrestling team and most recently the NROTC Battalion S2, where he was responsible for assisting other cadets improve their academic standing, which he did flawlessly, using a system he created.” Nicksic majored in economics and business and minored in Arabic. He is this year’s winner of the John W. and Jane M. Roberts Award, presented for outstanding performance by a 1st Class cadet in the economics and business major. His parents pinned him.

“Martin is a natural leader in his own right and an outstanding example of a future Marine Corps officer,” stated Homiak. “After graduating Officer Candidate School as the Honor Graduate last summer, Martin brought the leadership lessons he learned back to the NROTC Battalion as the battalion commanding officer. He oversaw all Navy and Marine Corps midshipmen in the battalion, totaling over 300. Under his supervision, the battalion completed the semester successfully, including the planning and execution of spring field training exercises.” Martin majored in biology and is one of the recipients of this year’s General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. Sixth Marine Division Awards, presented to the top two Marine 1st Class cadets in the Naval ROTC program. His parents pinned him.

Navy Vice Adm. Whitesell Commissions 30

Homiak also introduced Navy Vice Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, who thanked family members for their support of the cadets entering the Navy. He acknowledged the current turmoil in the world, and advised the cadets that the oath they would soon take will “inspire and guide them” in the challenges they will face as young officers. He then administered the oath of office to 30 cadets, commissioning them as ensigns.

Christina Skaggs ’22 commissions into the U.S. Navy, with right hand raised, in front of American flag.

Christina Skaggs ’22 commissions into the U.S. Navy during a ceremony in Cameron Hall May 15.—VMI Photo by Kelly Nye.

Homiak cited two outstanding cadets entering the Navy, Jacob Benny ’22 and Makenna Moore ’22. “Benny has proven to be one of VMI NROTC’s most well-rounded leaders,” stated Homiak. “During his four years in the NROTC program he has maintained a 3.5 GPA and outstanding physical readiness scores, while holding important leadership positions and maintaining an internship with NASA. During the spring semester, he excelled as the NROTC battalion executive officer, the second-highest position in the battalion. He also completed his mechanical engineering capstone with NASA, a special capstone project for which he was selected by his department and required an internship starting his last year.” Benny majored in mechanical engineering with a concentration in nuclear engineering, and double minored in mathematics and physics. His parents pinned him at the commissioning ceremony.

“Moore is a superb representation of the high-quality officers that are being produced through the VMI NROTC program,” continued Homiak. “During her time in the VMI NROTC program, she maintained a 3.8 GPA and outstanding physical readiness scores, while also competing as a Division I water polo athlete.” Moore majored in mechanical engineering and minored in both mathematics and physics. She was the captain of the women’s water polo team for two years and was the 2022 recipient of VMI’s Three-Legged Stool Award, an award given to one athlete who excels academically, militarily, and athletically. She is this year’s winner of the Superintendent William H. Milton Jr. Class of 1920 Award, presented to the top-standing 1st Class cadet in mechanical engineering. Moore transferred to the NROTC department during her 2nd Class year, with aspirations of becoming a nuclear officer, and is commissioning as VMI’s sole female submarine warfare officer for 2022. She was pinned by her parents.

Air Force Gen. Brown Commissions 33

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. was introduced by Col. Philip “Coop” Cooper, Air Force ROTC commanding officer. Brown administered the oath of office to 33 cadets, 29 into the Air Force, and four into the Space Force, commissioning them as second lieutenants.

According to Lt. Col. Michael “Keystone” Rose, Air Force ROTC recruiting officer, several of the Air Force cadets are remarkable. Holland Arnold ’22 achieved a rare and notable accomplishment by being accepted to Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the military’s medical school in Bethesda, Maryland. She will be active duty in the Air Force while in school. She majored in chemistry and is a distinguished graduate. She is this year’s winner of the Floyd D. Gottwald Jr. ’43 Award in Chemistry, presented to the top-standing 1st Class cadet in the chemistry major. Arnold credits VMI for opportunities afforded to her that she had never imagined when she matriculated. “I would not change anything about my time at VMI and am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend medical school following graduation,” said Arnold. Her parents and brother pinned her. In August, she reports for medical school, where she plans to specialize in psychiatry.

Four commissioned into the Space Force: Zachary Farr ’22, Jeremiah Gaulding ’22, Jerrod Hunziker ’22, and Melvin Rubio ’22.

Ellis Orquiza ’22 smiling as he receives his shoulder boards from his family.

Ellis Orquiza ’22 receives his shoulder boards from his family during an individual ceremony for Air Force in Memorial Hall May 15.—VMI Photo by Eric Moore.

Farr, a computer science major, will be a Space Force cyber officer, the first from VMI and one of 15 in the nation this year. He seeks to make a career out of the Space Force with the eventual goal of stepping foot on another planet. “I have been wildly enamored with space ever since I could look up, and have always known I would leave this planet for another during my lifetime. When this new branch came to be, I was fortunate to have earned a spot, and now I will work to realize my goal,” declared Farr. He was pinned by his parents. He will begin training within the year at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Gaulding will be going to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to work under Air Force Research Labs as a developmental engineer. “It was by complete happenstance I ended up getting a commission in the Space Force. I thought it would be interesting to get in at the ground floor and see where it would take me. I will be working alongside members of the Air Force, as we all have the similar end goal in mind,” said Gaulding. He majored in electrical and computer engineering and is a distinguished Air Force ROTC graduate. He is this year’s winner of the Stewart W. Anderson ’08 Memorial Award, presented to the top 1st Class cadet for superior academic performance in the electrical and computer engineering curriculum. He was pinned by his mother, a firefighter of 28 years with the Newport News fire department, and a huge role model in her son’s life.

Hunziker was commissioned as an electrical developmental engineer and will work on satellite communications systems. “I was attracted to the Space Force due to the growth potential for technology. Space is a new battle frontier, and it presents unique engineering constraints, and I would love to be on the forefront of technological advancements,” stated Hunziker. He majored in electrical and computer engineering and graduated with distinction. He was pinned by his mother and father, along with his fiancée.

Rubio will be working at Los Angeles Space Force Base in California. “I was attracted to the Space Force because the creation of a new military branch is a unique experience, and I wanted to be a part of it. Being able to work and advance the mission of a newly created branch excites me and inspired me to try to join. I was also told that it was particularly difficult to try to get into the Space Force with the major I had, so I had to try to get in and prove others wrong,” said Rubio, a civil engineering major and a distinguished graduate. Rubio credits the routine VMI instilled in him for four years has helped him become a better person both mentally and physically. His parents pinned him.

A distinguished graduate has a cumulative grade point average of 3.5 or above. A graduate with distinction has a cumulative GPA between 3.0 and 3.499.

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