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2024 Graduation Week

Three cadets and the superintendent saluting

Joining Wins in taking review of the Change of Command Parade as the new regiment passed before them were Mark Shelton ’24, regimental commander; Cole Cathcart ’24, 1st Class president; and Warner Collier ’24, Honor Court president.

Graduation | Commissioning | Memorial Parade | New Market Medal | Institute Awards

VMI Holds Commencement for Class of 2024

A cadet with her dimploma

A clear and warm morning set the tone for VMI’s commencement ceremony, conferring degrees on the approximately 350 cadets of the Class of 2024 who marched into Cameron Hall May 16, 2024.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, welcomed the assembly and noted that the great personal achievement of graduating from VMI is not reached alone but rather with the help of family, friends, faculty, staff, and coaches who encouraged, guided, and sustained the cadets. He reflected that many of the Class of 2024 may not have had high school graduations because of the pandemic, and he noted that these graduates were met with additional challenges and hardships than matriculants in previous years in August 2020. “You marched up the hill for the first time on a rainy afternoon with your VMI-issued masks on. Everything that first semester was done deliberately and with caution under the guidance of the medical community. Our goal was to protect each other and those around us. By November, the health experts advised we distance from each other for a season, so you finished your first semester online. Thankfully, you were able to return in January,” said Wins.

Wins also remarked on the shared firsts for the Class of 2024 and himself, as their first semester at VMI was also his first semester as interim superintendent. “In many ways, we have grown together. There was turmoil about our culture that was imposed upon the entire Corp of Cadets when you started. Those challenges were never about you or your class. You were then and are now cadets of character who embody a code that few, if any, colleges could live up to.”

Wins commended the class on their accomplishments, saying, “You are one of the few classes at VMI to have endured the full effects of the global pandemic. I can say without a doubt your class showed tremendous grit and resilience. You not only persevered to the end, but you did it with character. Remember this lesson because it will apply to many future challenges you will face. You have a foundation built on honor, resilience, dependability, and sacrifice. You know that leadership is not easy, but I challenge you to serve the people around you. Take these lessons and become leaders in your family, your community, the commonwealth, and the nation.”

Valedictorian Talks of Friendships

Virginia G. Townsend ’24, Class of 2024 peer-elected valedictorian, spoke and cited the additional burdens placed upon her class their rat year because of the pandemic but saw it as a blessing. “It was those difficult times that allowed us to grow closer with each other. The hallmark of any VMI class is the close bond forged between brother rats, but for our class, it is even more so the case.”

Townsend shared with her audience that she thought she knew the definition of friendship in high school but learned from her parents that a friend is someone who would lay down their life for you, someone who would drop everything to put your best interest above their own, and someone for whom you would do the same. “It wasn’t until coming here that I realized how right they were. Never before in my life have I had the privilege and the blessing to be surrounded by so many friends. We helped each other grow in maturity, grace, and confidence. We slowly but surely changed from a loosely connected group of individuals into the class of strong men and women,” she said.

Townsend conceded that the future may be uncertain but encouraged her peers to never lose faith and shared a favorite story from Holocaust survivor and Christian writer Corrie ten Boom. Ten Boom used a small tapestry as an object lesson during public speaking appearances. “‘Our lives are like watching a tapestry being made from the backside. You get occasional glimpses of what the front might look like, but mostly, it just seems like a colorful mess of knots and tangled threads. It’s not until the weaver is finished that you can turn it over and look at the front to see the amazing and intricate pattern that was being made there all along.’ As we step out into the world beyond, let us not lose sight of the lessons that VMI has taught us. Let us live each day with purpose and gratitude, for we never know if it may be our last. Let us bring a strong sense of morality and truth to those around us.” Townsend concluded her time with a blessing from the Bible passage, Numbers 6:24-26.

Cole Cathcart ’24, Class of 2024 president, shared farewell remarks to his brother rats by telling them to keep in mind the phrase, “look up.” “When wrestling with life’s challenges, look up at the sky, the clouds, and the mountains. God Almighty created the wonderful world around us, and his plans for us are so much larger than the trivial trials we experience. Look up to those who have helped you along the way: Parents, professors, coaches, faculty, staff, roommates, and dykes. While we say goodbye to each other today, we have technology to keep us together. When an old roommate or someone you shared a class with crosses your mind in a few years, look them up, call them, or send them a text or email. Let them know you’re thinking about them.”

McCarthy Offers Hope

Cathcart then introduced guest speaker, Ryan D. McCarthy ’96, 24th secretary of the U.S. Army, who graduated from VMI with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. McCarthy shared with his audience that despite his success in the military, government, and private sector, he was far from being a model cadet. “I was undisciplined and did not like following the rules. As a result, I spent a lot of time marching alone in the courtyard, in endless confinement, even cleaning latrines. No one would have predicted I would ever graduate, much less lead Airborne Ranger platoons into combat, or serve at the highest levels of industry and government. It got so bad that after two years, I was invited to leave,” he confessed.

After time spent at home in Chicago and having a heart-to-heart discussion with his parents, McCarthy was given permission to return to VMI and improved his academic performance. When he received his diploma, he was the first member of his family to attain a college degree.

McCarthy encouraged the graduating class to listen to their mentors and heed their wise words. He advised the cadets to cherish their friendships made at VMI and named several of his own brother rats who went on to lead successful lives, including John Adams ’96, VMI Board of Visitors president for the upcoming year, and Mark Townsend ’96, M.D., a preeminent cardiologist who sent all four of his children, including this year’s valedictorian, to VMI. Sadly, though, McCarthy also mentioned that a few of his classmates died prematurely. Fighting back tears, he shared, “It is important to note that for my class, the wins and achievements have been accompanied by struggling grief. Mental health issues claimed the lives of two of my classmates from suicide and alcohol abuse, a painful reminder to never stop looking out for one another for as long as you walk this earth.” He further shared that another classmate was killed by a sniper in Iraq.

He concluded by telling the graduating class to consider what faces them around the world, particularly the emerging alliance of China and Russia. “With abundance of natural resources, advanced technology, and above all, resentments against the West and America’s position as the world’s leading power, both are looking to recover what they lost in territory and treasure—one by force, the other by intimidation, coercion, and lost glory. And while we cannot predict all the crises to arise or the problems to solve, we know the leaders to solve them. They are in this auditorium.”

McCarthy currently serves on the CACI International board of directors and is an adviser to the U.S. Innovative Technology Fund. He is a member of the National Medal of Honor Museum Foundation board of directors and is the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business board of advisers vice chairman. In 2019, McCarthy was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

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 Jacob R. Kleinschuster ’24, an economics and business major from Richmond, Virginia.

Receiving the Second Jackson-Hope Medal for second highest attainment in scholarship, accompanied by the Colonel Sterling Murray Heflin 1916 Academic Proficiency Award, was Joshua D. Cheung ’24, from Brookfield, Connecticut, who double majored in biology and English.

Townsend received the Society of the Cincinnati Medal for efficiency of service and excellence of character, accompanied by the Richard J. Marshall and Sumter L. Lowry Awards.

Commencement concluded with a benediction offered by Col. John P. Casper ’04, chaplain, followed by Cadet Brian M. Pritchard ’25, the new regimental commander, relieving the Class of 2024 of their duties as they cheered and tossed their gloves in the air.

Alumni Agencies Photos

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VMI Commissions New Officers, Over 170 Take Oath

a row of cadets at commissioning ceremony

More than 170 Virginia Military Institute cadets commissioned into the armed services in the annual Reserve Officers’ Training Corps joint commissioning ceremony at Cameron Hall May 15, 2024. The ceremony was livestreamed for family and friends who could not attend the event in person.

Gen. James C. Slife, U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff, offered the commissioning officer remarks and administered the oath of office to the cadets beginning their journey of military service in the U.S. Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, welcomed all 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 fulfills one of the central purposes of VMI, which is the preparation and education of citizen-soldiers.

After Wins recognized veterans and current military members in the audience and thanked them for their service, he noted that VMI cadets have always moved toward the sound of conflict to serve the nation. “As we speak, danger persists in many parts of the world, including for our NATO allies. We must have a strong military led by highly educated and skilled officers, men and women of character, dedicated to defending the freedoms that we continue to enjoy. Cadets, you have developed a foundation based on these skills during your years of study at VMI. There is no doubt you have been challenged, but now you are prepared. It is your turn to take these skills grounded in a firm ethical foundation and put them to good use,” said Wins.

Over 38 years ago, Wins decided to commission. “And just like you, I was sworn in as a young officer and became part of a great team of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and service families. You, too, will come to cherish the same experience,” he stated.

Wins congratulated each cadet on attaining their commission and told them the Institute could not be prouder. “The profession you have chosen will challenge you but don’t lose focus. Take heart, knowing you are following in the footsteps of many alumni who have gone before you to live a life of service to our nation. Our country is fortunate to have citizen-soldiers and leaders like yourselves. Good luck to each of you in the years ahead, and please stay in touch.”

When it came time for Slife to speak, he confessed that he came prepared with a written speech but felt the moment called for something different, so he chose to speak extemporaneously. He shared with the cadets three nuggets of advice as they began their careers. “The first one I offer you is to never forget that leadership is a burden to be borne, and not a crown to be worn. Leaders get themselves into trouble when they come to believe that it’s all about the leader, but it’s not. It’s about the led—those young men and women who choose to serve alongside you.

“Second, leadership is about becoming and not about being.’” He quoted Greek philosopher Aristotle, who said, “‘Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” “It’s all about becoming more excellent on a day-to-day basis. When you’re faced with a difficult decision or a challenging circumstance, don’t think about what somebody else would do in the situation. That’s unlimited utility. A more important question for you to ask yourself is, ‘If I was a perfect version of myself, what would I do?’ Whatever the answer is to that, do that thing. It’s about becoming a more perfect version of yourself.”

The last piece of advice he offered was to be worthy of the service of those around you. “The thing that makes military service so powerful are the teams that we get to be a part of, doing hard things together with people who you come to love. The worst thing you can do is let down your teammates. Always strive to be worthy of their service.” He then asked the commissioning cadets to stand and he administered the oath of office.

According to Col. Scott Brannon, professor of military science, six cadets who commissioned into the Army stand out as exemplary: Thomas Coble ’24, an economics and business major from Annapolis, Maryland; Benjamin Luke Greer ’24, a psychology major from Mechanicsville, Virginia; Jacob Kleinschuster ’24, an economics and business major from Richmond, Virginia; Paul Murray ’24, an international studies major from Falls Church, Virginia; Kate Taylor ’24, a civil engineering major from Newton, Massachusetts; and Akhil Thadur ’24, a mechanical engineering major from Little Rock, Arkansas. “Kleinschuster executed all aspects of his cadetship and maximized his order of merit score with an outstanding rating at cadet summer training, which ranked him second in the nation, and he is the recipient of the John W. and Jane M. Roberts Award. Taylor balanced her cadetship with academics, Corps activities, and athletics, earned the Three-Legged Stool Award, and received the Earl L. Valentine Jr. Award. Murray has been a top performer for all four years and has also served as regimental executive officer for the Corps this past year. Thadur was the Army ROTC battalion executive officer and led to make things happen for the AROTC. Greer was this year’s recipient of the Colonel Thomas St. John Arnold Award and Cmdr. H.M. Mason Military Proficiency Award. He and Coble both led the Army ROTC Ranger Challenge team, which competed in the Sandhurst Military Skills Competition at the U.S. Military Academy and earned a bid to compete at Exercise Cambrian Patrol in Wales in the fall,” he said.

Col. Travis Homiak ’95, Naval ROTC commanding officer, cited two outstanding cadets entering the Navy. Kieran Weldon ’24, from Woodbridge, Virginia, is a civil engineering major and this year’s recipient of the Chief of Naval Operations Distinguished Midshipman Graduate Award and the Lieutenant Mark R. Wilson Sr. Midshipman Award. “Weldon served as Navy commanding officer during fall semester, and was one of four selected nationwide for Surface Warfare Officer Engineering Duty, and is pursuing dive school. Ulrich Meintjes ’24, a mechanical engineering major from Weston, Texas, has participated in interesting internships throughout his time here, including with NASA. He is one of 23 selected as Naval Postgraduate School Shoemaker Scholar.”

Homiak also named two top performers entering the Marine Corps: Russell Crouch ’24, a modern languages and cultures major from Liberty, Missouri, and Sebastian Ramirez ’24, an applied mathematics major from Ashburn, Virginia. “Crouch served as Marine company commander this past spring, is an NROTC distinguished graduate, and he participated in Project Global Officer to Taiwan. Ramirez served as the Marine company physical training instructor, company gunnery sergeant last fall, Bulldog platoon sergeant this past spring, and the VMI Delta Company commander. He is this year’s recipient of the General Lemuel C. Shepherd Jr. Sixth Marine Division Award and the Chesty Puller Award, First Marine Division,” shared Homiak.

Lt. Col. Cary Wilson, education officer of Air Force ROTC, cited two exceptional cadets entering the Air Force: Abigail Soyars ’24, a modern languages and cultures major from Waynesboro, Virginia, and Jacob Johnston ’24, a computer science major from Bristol, Virginia. “Soyars was the detachment’s spring cadet wing commander. She led the 135-person wing through a challenging semester and hosted a successful VMI Days, where 195 cadets from 11 colleges and universities received training to prepare them for their summer field training. She and her team exceeded the training objectives and ensured our AFROTC cadets were closer to receiving their commissions after their four years,” said Wilson. Soyars is slated to be an intelligence officer and will attend training at Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas.

“Johnston has been a top performer in AROTC and has led at various levels. He was a cadet squadron commander responsible for the training, mentoring, and development of 50 cadets. He has excelled in his studies all four years while juggling AROTC and NCAA athletics.” He is this year’s recipient of the Charles R. Martin ’55 Award. After graduation, he reports to undergraduate pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi.

According to Command Sgt. Maj. Suzanne Rubenstein, director of cadet activities and VMI liaison for the Coast Guard Auxiliary University Program, all the USCG cadets have done remarkably well this year. Hannah White ’24, an international studies major from Point of Rocks, Maryland, and one of the original founding members of the AUP, was instrumental in the public relations for the group.

Slife holds a Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from Auburn University in Alabama, where he commissioned into the Air Force through the ROTC program. He has spent most of his career in special operations aviation assignments, deploying extensively worldwide. Additional degrees he holds include a Master of Aerospace Science, Aeronautics from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and a Master of Administrative Science, Organizational Management from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. He is the recipient of multiple awards and decorations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star Medal with oak leaf clusters, the Air Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and the Combat Action Medal. He was named Air Force Special Operations Command Pilot of the Year in 1998, and Major General John R. Alison Special Operations Educator of the Year in 2008.

Alumni Agencies Photos VMI Photos

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Change of Command and Memorial Parades

cadets marching down Letcher Ave

Change of Command Parade

The 184th Regiment handed over leadership of the Corps of Cadets to the 185th Regiment for the 2024–25 academic year during the Change of Command Parade May 14.

It was the last parade for Mark Shelton ’24, outgoing regimental commander, a computer science major from Stafford, Virginia, who commissioned into the U.S. Army.

Wins conducted the change of command ceremony, as Shelton relinquished the regimental flag and company guidon to Wins, which Wins then presented to Cadet Brian Pritchard ’25, incoming RCO. Pritchard matriculated from Thornton, Colorado, and plans to commission in the U.S. Marine Corps following graduation next year.

Joining Wins in taking review of the parade as the new regiment passed before them were Shelton; Cole Cathcart ’24, 1st Class president; and Warner Collier ’24, Honor Court president. The parade closed with the singing of “VMI Spirit.”

Memorial Parade

The Memorial Parade was held May 15, commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of all alumni who died on the field of honor. Reading all 591 names were Cadets Emma Cameron ’25, Angelina Garcia ’25, John Kennedy ’25, and Thomas Reagan ’25. A wreath was laid at the foot of the monument, Virginia Mourning Her Dead, as well as at the three barracks arches, followed by the firing of a three-volley salute. A stirring echo rendition of taps was played, followed by the Pipe Band leading the Regimental Band in an emotional delivery of “Amazing Grace.”

In addition to the traditional ceremony, the late G. Gilmer “Gil” Minor III ’63 was awarded the New Market Medal posthumously. His widow, Charlotte; daughter, Cameron; and son, Gilmer Minor IV ’93, were present to accept the honor on his behalf, and joined Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent; Tom Watjen, Board of Visitors president; and Col. Adrian T. Bogart III ’81, commandant, in taking review of the parade as the Corps marched from the Parade Ground down Letcher Avenue toward barracks.

Alumni Agencies Memorial Parade Photos Alumni Agencies Change of Command Photos

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VMI Bestows Highest Honor to Minor ’63, Son Accepts on Father’s Behalf

three people standing in front of a podium

Gilmer “Gil” Minor III ’63 was posthumously awarded the New Market Medal, VMI’s highest honor, during the annual Memorial Parade May 15, 2024. The VMI Board of Visitors established the New Market Medal to recognize exceptional individuals who have demonstrated the qualities of duty, honor, devotion, and leadership that carried forward the VMI Corps of Cadets at the Battle of New Market May 15, 1864. Minor is only the 17th award recipient since its introduction in 1962. His widow, Charlotte; daughter, Cameron; and son, Gilmer Minor IV ’93, were present to accept the honor on his behalf.

Minor IV addressed the BOV, his fellow alumni, friends, guests, and the Corps of Cadets in an emotional message. “I never could have imagined I would be here speaking on behalf of a man who so graciously dedicated much of his life, time, and energy to supporting and upholding the longstanding traditions and values of VMI,” said Minor IV. “I’m able to reflect on the spirit that he exuded, the pride he had, and the memory and sheer joy my father felt being with and part of this community.

He continued, “My father lived his values of honor, duty, service, loyalty, integrity, and community. This honor today is about my father’s commitment and loyalty to VMI, as well as what VMI gave him that enabled him to be the man he was. Were he here today giving these remarks himself, he wouldn’t speak of any of his accomplishments or contributions. He would simply say it was his duty and responsibility as a citizen-soldier. I can say without hesitation that while he was recognized and honored for so many things throughout his life, this is the honor that would have meant the most.”

Minor, who passed away last May, graduated from VMI with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and a Master of Business degree from the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He served a term on the Keydet Club’s Board of Governors, was a Foundation Board of Trustees member from 1993–2000 and served as its president from 1997–2000. In 2000, Minor became a member of the Board of Visitors and served as president from 2005–08. He was a recipient of the VMI Distinguished Service Award in 2008. He also received the Spirit of VMI Award, the VMI Keydet Club’s highest honor, recognizing the outstanding support for VMI’s intercollegiate athletic programs. He was inducted as a member of the VMI Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

During an interview in 2014 with Amy Goetz, VMI Alumni Agencies chief communications officer, Minor became emotional as he reflected on his time as a cadet and all he experienced and learned at VMI. He described what he called a “toolkit” of skills and abilities available to all cadets and alumni throughout their lives: The skills to make good decisions, recover after failure, and meet the next challenge. “The toolkit starts with integrity, and living a life that is completely encapsulated with honor and integrity and being able to put your head on the pillow every night and go to sleep, and know that you’ve done the right thing. VMI also teaches you time management because you never have time at VMI to do everything, but you have to make choices and priorities. VMI teaches you to not give up. You’re going to falter, you’re going to fail, but get up and keep moving forward,” Minor said. He went on to share that he considered it an investment each time he made donations to VMI. “I want to keep a good thing going. Whether it’s $10, $100, or $500, every investment means giving up something as an individual, but investing in something that lasts forever.”

A leader in Virginia business, Minor joined the family business, Owens & Minor, a healthcare distribution and logistics company, in 1963 and served in numerous sales, management, and operations roles before becoming its president in 1981, its chief executive officer in 1984, and its chairman in May 1994. Minor was active in many civic, charitable, and industry organizations, including the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, Virginia Health Care Foundation, the University of Virginia’s School of Nursing, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Massey Cancer Center, VCU’s School of Business Foundation, Virginia Business Higher Education Council, and Virginia Business Council.

The Minor family joined Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent; Tom Watjen, BOV president; and Col. Adrian T. Bogart III ’81, commandant, in taking review of the parade as the Corps marched from the Parade Ground down Letcher Avenue toward barracks.

Alumni Agencies Memorial Parade Photos

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Celebrating Excellence at the Institute

Cadet receiving an award

Each May, numerous awards recognizing the accomplishments of cadets, faculty, and staff across multiple fields and disciplines are presented at VMI’s Institute Awards ceremony. These awards are provided by VMI, by civic groups, and by the Institute’s ROTC units. Some of the awards have cash prizes that are provided by the VMI Alumni Agencies. Review a list of all award recipients on VMI’s website.

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