Stories of Impact

Cappellano ’24: Combining Confidence and Competence

Madison Cappellano ’24


“If I was given the opportunity to talk to my rat self, I would think that I’m very proud of myself for how far I’ve come. When I came, I was on the soccer team, and then I had to medically retire. And so, I had to basically switch my cadetship, and it’s given me the opportunity to see both sides of the system that we live in.” That’s how Madison Cappellano ’24 explains her journey at VMI—a journey that’s taken her from being a recruited NCAA athlete to a former athlete who’s taken full advantage of all the Institute has to offer, including holding rank in the Corps, completing both an independent study and an internship, and participating in Army Ranger Challenge.

A native of Glenmore, Pennsylvania, Cappellano surprised her family by choosing a military school. No one in her family had served in the military, and as she recalled, her parents were unsure of her choice as the family was driving to post for a visit. “They were like, she will never like this. But then I fell in love with [VMI] from the first time I saw it,” Cappellano remembered.

Like any other rat, Cappellano had moments of stress and uncertainty about her choice. Encouragement from her parents helped her stay the course, but so did the brother rat bond. “As you progress through the Rat Line, you kind of transition from [relying on] the motivation you get from home to motivation from the people around you here,” she explained.

Now, as she wraps up her cadetship and prepares to commission into the U.S. Army and graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in international studies, Cappellano is reflecting on the many activities she’s been involved with and how she’s grown over the past four years.

This year, Cappellano is the Second Battalion commander, and last year, as a 2nd Class cadet, she was the first female regimental sergeant major. As Cappellano explains it, her current position as a battalion commander gives her the unique opportunity to make a very good thing—VMI’s regimental system—even better.

“It’s very influential because you’re not only able to interact with rats but also the Old Corps … so you’re able to really show your presence on both fields and have individual projects that you want to work on with other battalion commanders to make the regimental system better in any capacity,” she explained.

“Being able to receive those scholarships was very rewarding. Because of those opportunities, I was able to come to VMI and be able to create more opportunities for myself.”

Madison Cappellano ’24

Academically, Cappellano has enjoyed opportunities she describes as “very vast.” Last semester, she completed an independent study on how geography impacts feminist discourse and human rights policy. “Having that one-on-one time with professors is very unique to VMI,” she stated. “Usually, at a larger school with larger programs, you wouldn’t have that individualized time. Having the opportunity to conduct these studies is something that I didn’t realize would be an opportunity for me.”

Cappellano has also completed a summer internship through the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium on Poverty, which is based at neighboring Washington and Lee University, and during the school year, being on the Ranger Challenge team takes up a good bit of her time.

Experiences such as these have taught Cappellano the vital skills of time management and being fully present in the moment. “Balancing everything can be difficult at times,” she acknowledged. “But even from the time you’re a rat, you realize that when it’s time to do schoolwork, you put 100% effort into that, and when it’s time to do military, you do that 100%. So having those different boxes and separating them is something that I still apply to my cadetship today.”

Over the course of her cadetship, Cappellano has been very grateful to receive support from two scholarships, one for an NCAA cadet-athlete and the other established by the late Tom Saunders ’58. “Obviously, being from out of state, it is a pretty hefty tuition bill,” she stated. “But being able to receive those scholarships was very rewarding. Because of those opportunities, I was able to come to VMI and be able to create more opportunities for myself.”

After Saunders died in September 2022, Cappellano was one of a group of cadets selected to represent VMI at his memorial service in New York City. “I remember sitting next to some of his family members and telling them that he’s one of the reasons why I was able to come to VMI,” she noted. “I was able to see how much of an impact that has on other cadets, as well as how much impact he had on other people. … [Alumni] really do feed the future of VMI, and that is definitely something that us cadets see today.”

Looking back, Cappellano can see how far she’s come from her rat year. “I am definitely glad I came to VMI,” she said. “I think coming to VMI has definitely changed my personality, as well as my outlook on life. I think that I’ve become a very competent individual. And something that I learned, especially through VMI, is that if you mix confidence and competence, that’s what drives success in the real world.”

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