To say that Cadet Cassidy Dufour ’23 took an unusual path to matriculating at VMI would be an understatement. For starters, she grew up in New Hampshire, where the Institute isn’t always a household name. Then there’s the fact that no one in her family had served in the military. As the end of high school neared, she began to envision herself at a large public university a few states away.
Then, Dufour had the opportunity to be a page in the U.S. Senate, serving under then-U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte. While serving as a page, Dufour took a political science class—and learned about the U.S. Supreme Court case in which women were admitted to VMI.
“And at that point, I had fallen in love with law and policy,” she stated. “And I knew that I wanted to be a JAG officer. But as no one in my family had served, I knew I was going to need a lot of help to get there.”
Intrigued by the possibility of a military school, Dufour began to look into VMI while also considering the public university. She toured both schools. “It just felt wrong,” she said of the other school. “You walk around post [at VMI], and everyone says hi to you. And that’s something I love. Everyone will always say hi to you. They’ll ask how you’re doing and talk about what’s going on because we’re all going through the same thing.”
While many cadets go through a period of doubting their college choice during the Rat Line, Dufour did not, thanks largely to the support of her dyke. But during her 3rd Class year, Dufour felt a bit at sea and contemplated transferring to another school. After reaching out to one of the cadet chaplains for support, she decided that staying at VMI would be her best path.
As she made her decision, Dufour recalled what the executive officer of her company had said on Matriculation Day: “This is day zero. You have earned nothing.” As a 3rd Class cadet, Dufour’s earning process was well underway—so why throw that away?
“I knew I had earned what I was there for, and I was going to continue to work hard,” she stated. “So, it kind of lit a fire under me after that and just kept going, doing all this other stuff around VMI, getting involved with pre-law more, getting involved more with the rifle team, things like that.”
Now just weeks away from graduation, Dufour is looking back at a cadetship filled with activities and accomplishments. She’s a participant in the Institute Honors program, earning a double major in international studies and modern languages and cultures (Arabic) and minoring in national security—and wears academic stars despite her heavy course load.
Outside the classroom, she’s captain of the Institute’s NCAA rifle team, president of the Pre-Law Society, and now—a cadet chaplain herself—supporting other cadets just as she was once supported. Next month, she’ll commission into the U.S. Air Force.
During her time at VMI, Dufour has been appreciative of the Institute’s offerings in the area of undergraduate research. She’s particularly thankful for the support of Vera Heuer, Ph.D., associate professor of international studies, and Col. Dennis Foster, Ph.D., chair of the international studies department.
"It was in that adversity, in that time when I was uncomfortable and I was questioning my existence, that I really grew into the leader I am today and the person I want to become tomorrow."Cassidy Dufour '23
This year, she’s written an Institute Honors thesis on the training of women participating in United Nations peacekeeping missions, and in preparation for that, Dufour spent time last summer at the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, doing research in the college’s women, peace, and security department.
“VMI always teaches you the real-world world application,” she commented. “I’m adding to the literature. No one has been studying the training of peacekeepers before, especially female peacekeepers, and they haven’t been analyzing what’s been done previously. So, it’s a new aspect and new data in the field.”
A commitment to research has helped Dufour understand one of the Institute’s deepest lessons.
“The idea of VMI is that it’s what you put into it is what you’re going to get out,” she commented. “So, if you’re willing to put in the time and effort to put out a great research project, you can really accomplish some high-level research with real-world applications that people are going to look at and see that is a high-quality research project. And it came from VMI.”
She’s equally excited about the closeness and camaraderie of the rifle team. “I really do love shooting, and I love the team,” Dufour stated. “It’s so great. And we really support each other.” Sometimes, Dufour finds herself tutoring rats who are having difficulty in an international studies class while other team members can help those struggling with drill and ceremonies. Still others are willing to help younger members of the team who need assistance with physical conditioning.
Asking for help, she’s learned, pays rich dividends. “Everything blends well together,” she noted. “You just have to know who to ask for help because everyone’s here to help you.”
With graduation just weeks away, Dufour can now reflect and see an amazing personal transformation—one that she calls “a complete 180.”
“I came in very quiet and shy … I tended to keep to myself,” she explained. As time passed, though, Dufour came out of her shell.
“I became more confident, working harder, looking around, just seeing what’s going on,” she said. “It’s funny: My uncle dyke came back for the 25th anniversary of women at VMI celebration. And she was kind of shocked. It was the first time I’d seen her since that year. And I was not that shy, quiet little rat in her room.”
Nor is Dufour the same person she was when she was considering that large university.
“I’ve made connections for a lifetime,” she said. “I’ve made a whole new set of friends and family. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Even though there’s those hard days, those hard nights where you’re staring at the ceiling wondering why you’re doing this— I wouldn’t trade those for anything because those are the times where I grew. It was in that adversity, in that time when I was uncomfortable and I was questioning my existence, that I really grew into the leader I am today and the person I want to become tomorrow. …VMI definitely changed who I was and who I was going to become, and I think for the better.”
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