Stories of Impact

Cavanaugh ’23: “There’s a lot of good happening here.”

Cameron Cavanaugh '23

3:11

A difficult experience shapes a person, and the type of person on the other side of a hardship depends on the factors molding them. Cameron Cavanaugh ’23, 1st Class president, believes the shared sufferings at VMI—not only in the normal challenges of cadetship but also in the unique adversities of the last few years—have brought him close to the Corps and shown him that, despite adversity, the Institute is as strong as ever.

Cavanaugh emphasized the values of brotherhood, citizen-soldiership, and honor that molded him remain strong and make the VMI system work. Even through their most trying times at VMI, Cavanaugh said his brother rats have had each other’s backs and are stronger “through shared suffering.”

“Our ring, it says, ‘Through shared suffering,” said Cavanaugh. “And that’s not meant to just be some barbaric quote. It’s to say that throughout the hardest times here, whether it be the first week here, or the 75th week that you’re here, that the people to your left, and your right, they have your back.”

As 1st Class president, Cavanaugh presides over the entire class system. He feels accountable to his brother rats and their welfare. It’s a position of great responsibility, but he says he is “grateful and beyond blessed” to assume it. In describing what his class’ VMI experience has been these last four years, Cavanaugh said it’s been one of adversity and success. “I think this institution has been through the wringer,” he said. “There’s been a lot of moving pieces, especially throughout the past few years and my cadetship, in particular. I’ve seen kind of a pre-COVID VMI, pre-allegation VMI, pre-investigation VMI. We were here for all of it. And now we’re coming out of it.”

Yet, these challenges have not changed Cavanaugh or his class’s belief in the tenets of the VMI system and the aspiration toward living honorably and as a citizen-soldier. “I think that the values and the morals and the principles … we still have our eye on them,” Cavanaugh stated. “We are still actively doing our absolute best to reel in and pull them close to our hearts so that this place is still producing educated and honorable men and women prepared for the very work of civil life, otherwise known as ‘citizen-soldiers.’ I’m not saying that sarcastically, either; I genuinely believe that.

“I think that the value of a VMI degree comes down to a small collection of decisions that a VMI cadet makes on a daily basis,” Cavanaugh continued. “We’re doing our absolute best to ensure that those small decisions that everybody’s making on a daily basis are full of integrity and honor.”

“I think that the value of a VMI degree comes down to a small collection of decisions that a VMI cadet makes on a daily basis. We’re doing our absolute best to ensure that those small decisions that everybody’s making on a daily basis are full of integrity and honor.”

Cameron Cavanaugh '23 1st Class President

Regarding the scrutiny and critique of changes at the Institute in the last few years, Cavanaugh explained, “The tangibles change, but the non-tangibles don’t.” He believes the values and core tenets of VMI remain unchanged.

From his own observations and time spent reflecting on the opposing viewpoints surrounding VMI, Cavanaugh feels these opinions have more in common than they think. The Corps of Cadets, for him, is always striving to rectify wrongs and bettering themselves. “I can almost guarantee that a lot of folks who have conflicting opinions about VMI don’t actually disagree as much as they think that they do,” said Cavanaugh. “There’s a lot of good that’s happening here.”

For Cavanaugh, VMI gave him ways to serve, it underscored his convictions, it challenged him, and it shaped him. With each year, he gained new perspective with new appreciation for the system. “I definitely believe that there’s a distinction between who Cameron was matriculating and who he is now,” said Cavanaugh. “There’s been a lot of moments where I’ve kind of paused, reflected, and said to myself: ‘You may not have seen it this way a year or two ago, but because of the position that you’re in now, with the knowledge that you have now, it makes more sense.”

Since high school, Cavanaugh knew he wanted to serve in the military, a conviction motivated in part by his personal faith in God. This spring, as he graduates with degrees in international studies and political science, he will fulfill his desire to serve as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. And in his plans to serve others in his life, Cavanaugh includes supporting VMI and what he feels his experience—challenges and all—gave him.

“I am very glad that I came to VMI,” said Cavanaugh. “I think that there’s a lot of beauty in the place. I think that there are some unfortunate perceptions that I could only hope somebody be willing to show up and have a conversation about because the reason, the purposes, and the overall product of the ‘Mother I’ is still well intact. And I can only hope that one day I can contribute back to it in order for it to continue its mission and continue doing what it’s doing. Because I think it’s working.”

  • Christian Heilman

    Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content

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