Brandon Marks ’23 is passionate about VMI and the Honor Code underpinning it.
As president of the Honor Court, Marks dedicates himself to safeguarding the principles of the honor system, tenets he says remain “alive and well” since the Institute’s founding in 1839.
Marks’ enthusiasm for the Institute is as lively today as it was Matriculation Day when he was singled out for his smile and excitement. “I remember within the first five minutes of me being there, I was already being screamed at for [smiling], and they’re like, ‘Rat Marks, what is your problem?’ and I said, ‘This rat is frankly happy to be here. I’m just that happy to be here.”
He reflected that his Matriculation Week was especially tough because of his smiling countenance. “It’s something I learned to postpone. But now, as you can see, I just keep it on at all times,” Marks quipped.
All humor aside, it is this positively wholehearted love for VMI and what it means to be an honorable cadet that motivates Marks in his position and personal life. Few might characterize the Institute as a “utopia” during their cadetship, but this is the exact term Marks used to describe what it is like to have trust in the character of his brother rats and fellow cadets on post.
“The Honor Code at this school and the honor system are really the bedrock of everything that we do here,” said Marks. “I was told once that without character, you could be the smartest guy or gal, you could be the funniest, you could be whatever, but without character, the rest is all meaningless, right? Because nobody can trust you.”
“At VMI, we’re so lucky here to have an honor system that—I know it’s weird using this word—but it almost does create a sense of utopia, frankly, at the school because I can leave my $1,000 computer anywhere on post—I can leave it outside, and I know that, at least not by a cadet, that it won’t be touched. It’s not going to move for a month.”
Considering criticism regarding changes made in the Honor Court, Marks affirms his conviction that the core tenets of VMI’s Honor Code remain unchanged. He asserts the changes made were made in “good faith” in hopes of enhancing the scrutiny expected of the Honor Court about how to best uphold the honor system in the Corps of Cadets.
“The Honor Code is alive and well,” Marks attested. “Despite a lot of criticism that I get from alumni and things like that about recent SOP changes and reviews, I can assure them, and I can assure everybody that I believe these changes were made with good faith. They’ll do nothing but really add to the scrutiny of the honor system in a good way because we want scrutiny.”
“I was told once that without character, you could be the smartest guy or gal, you could be the funniest, you could be whatever but without character, the rest is all meaningless, right? Because nobody can trust you.”Brandon Marks ’23 Honor Court President
Marks explains that scrutiny is intrinsic and necessary to maintaining the integrity of the honor system.
“The more scrutiny on our system, I think the better as long as it’s fair and reasonable scrutiny,” continued Marks. “We’re always looking at our work and saying, ‘What can I do better? What can we do better? How can we have an honor system that’s as close to perfect as possible in prosecuting cases and, more importantly, educating the core? We really embrace it. Any ideas, criticism, and innovation that can strengthen our system [are] all good news to us.”
In his 3rd Class year, Marks was elected to the Honor Court, and this year, he was elected as Honor Court president. He views his role in the Honor Court as the “biggest privilege and responsibility” he has had at the Institute.
“It’s been a tremendous honor,” said Marks. “And it’s a tremendous responsibility that I give a lot of time to, quite frankly. I think it deserves nothing less than that.”
For Marks, honor is the most important part of the Institute that authenticates a VMI graduate. “It’s the thing that ties us all together and hopefully gives weight to that degree more than just academics and leadership experiences; it’s that imbuement of character.”
Marks’ service in levels of leadership and commitment to academics as an international studies major could make him feel he had repaid VMI for the opportunities given him. Instead, he aims to give back continually even after graduation because of the indebtedness he feels to VMI for the scholarship enabling him to attend the Institute in the first place.
“When I came to VMI, the only reason I was here and fortunate to be here was through a scholarship,” said Marks. “I remember when I got that scholarship, I really just made a vow to myself, and I thought, ‘I’m going to do everything I can to pay back every single penny to the school that I can, whether that be through money down the line that I give, through connecting other people to the school, or through making a difference here.”
Even after long days and on tough mornings at the Institute, Marks is full of gratitude. “Sometimes I go to bed at 2 in the morning, and I’m upset, I’m angry; it’s been a long day, and I want to sleep,” said Marks. “Then you think about it: How privileged am I that I get to be tired at 2 in the morning because I spent my day meeting with generals, I spent my day building an app, I spent my day working with some of the best people I’ve ever met in my entire life at the school. When you put into perspective to have the privilege to be here and to be funded, no less; it’s as I said, I hope I can pass that along.”
In disappointments, such as finding a heart condition would prevent his goal of commissioning into the Marine Corps, Marks has found VMI and its alumni to be a guiding force in his life and career. With plans to enter real estate development, Marks even owes his career pursuit to the mentorship of an alumnus.
And he hopes he has made his own positive mark on the Institute for all it has given him. “I’ve just been so fortunate to be a part of the things here that I really hope my time here has left a lasting legacy for others to follow and has made lives easier.”
With his same smile and exuberance, Marks is just as compelled today as he was his rat year by VMI’s mission, its Honor Code, and the service-oriented individuals it molds. “I believe strongly in our Institute’s commitment to service and the upholding of that commitment by our graduates. And for that, I could not be more thankful for those who’ve gone before us and those who are with us right now and hopefully those who go after us.”
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