Stories of Impact

Carpenter ’23: 1st Class Private Success

Ethan Carpenter ’23


Coming into VMI, Cadet Ethan Carpenter ’23 knew that VMI was no ordinary college. It’s no surprise, then, that he took no ordinary approach to the Rat Line.

“When I showed up, like the night before I came, I decided to shave my hair into a mullet,” Carpenter explained. “So, I had really long hair. I just took the front off and took the sides off and did racing stripes down each side because I wanted as much attention on me as I could get as soon as I got here. I wanted to lean into it.”

That lean-in approach, a sharp contrast to the many rats who seek to blend in and thus not draw the unwelcome attention of cadre, has succeeded in spades for Carpenter, a 1st Class private and psychology major from Richmond, Virginia. Now, just four months from graduation, he’s reflecting on a cadetship that’s included being a member of the wrestling team and serving as a cadet EMT. This year, he’s an EMT team lead. In addition, he’s a member of the Strings Club, where he plays the violin, and he’s cadet in charge of the Cadet Call Center, a stewardship program in which cadets call alumni and friends of the Institute.

Growing up, Carpenter was always aware of VMI. In high school, he got to know some fellow students who wound up coming to the Institute to play football, and at that point, Carpenter began to wonder if he could succeed as a cadet-athlete as well.

“One of the main reasons that I chose VMI is because I always kind of knew I would look back if I didn’t do it and wonder, what if I could have done it? And I didn’t want to have any regrets or second thoughts. So, I knew that if I committed to it, I’d set my mind to it and get through it,” Carpenter stated.

Even though he doesn’t hold rank in the Corps, Carpenter has found plenty of ways to lead at VMI—and he’s been thankful for all of them.

That mindset led not only to an unusual hairstyle on Matriculation Day but a wholehearted embrace of the Institute’s adversarial system. “I wanted to be getting as much heat as I could as quickly as possible,” Carpenter explained. In taking that approach, Carpenter was not only trying to get as much out of VMI as possible, but he was building on advice from an older cadet, who told him, “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.”

The discipline of the Institute appealed to Carpenter in a way that the typical college experience did not. “I like discipline,” he stated. “I like having a regimen. I think when I have a really, really intense schedule; the less free time I have, the better I do.”

With that step-up mindset, Carpenter persevered through not only the Rat Line but also the challenges of college academics. He’d matriculated as a biology major, intending to attend medical school, but he then took an introduction to psychology course and fell in love with that subject. Now, he’s planning on commissioning into the Army, with the long-term goal of attending graduate school in clinical psychology and becoming a therapist.

Even though he doesn’t hold rank in the Corps, Carpenter has found plenty of ways to lead at VMI—and he’s been thankful for all of them. “You’re getting more mature than you would at a normal college,” he commented. “You’re learning a lot of skills that you wouldn’t other places … VMI definitely prepares you to be able to lead others and understand finding your role. And once you find a place that you belong, you actually fall in love with it. Things just fall into place after that.”

As a wrestler, Carpenter has been the recipient of the Bryan Family Athletic Scholarship—a fact he’s particularly grateful for because medical issues held up his Army scholarship for some time. “I’m thankful for it every day,” he said. “Every dime is helpful. … It’s really comforting to know that people care about us so much and want to help us out.”

As he looks forward to graduation, Carpenter is thankful for everyone who has made his cadetship possible. “VMI is definitely one of the best decisions I ever made.”

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