Doing Their Part: Class of 2020 Begins Scholarship

Cannon ball painted to resemble Class of 2020 ring design.

“Let’s do something good. Let’s make 2020 something special,” said Fielding Quarles ’20, explaining why his class decided to use the bulk of their class funds to begin a scholarship that will eventually aid future cadets.

Josh Austin ’20, class vice president, actually proposed the idea of a class scholarship in early fall 2019—well before COVID-19 was in the picture. He received an Institute Scholarship during his cadetship and remains grateful for the support he received from it, especially as an out-of-state student.

“The gratitude I felt for the scholarships I received and the impact they made on my life definitely made me want to try to … give back and to give that kind of help to someone else who might need it,” Austin said, explaining why he wanted to start a class scholarship. With planning for a busy semester ahead, the idea of creating a class scholarship was put on hold—until spring 2020 (and COVID-19) rolled around.

The screeching halt of pretty much every activity due to the pandemic encompassed the Class of 2020’s graduation and any associated events. This included no class party and other Corps functions—usually financed by the class funds—leaving 2020 with several thousand dollars in their account. The class leadership gathered and talked about what to do with the funds.

The funds belonged to the entire class—together, they worked and raised funds throughout their cadetship. To gather everyone’s input, all 2020 BRs were sent a survey with several options about how to use the funds; they were asked to vote for two. Options included items such as Yeti cups or Hawaiian shirts for the class and even dividing up the funds and reimbursing each BR. A one-year reunion party was discussed but dismissed, since BRs were quickly dispersing around the globe with career and military commitments. Another option was beginning a Class of 2020 scholarship.

When the survey results were tallied, the class scholarship was overwhelmingly the No. 1 choice. Quarles, the class’ sensible money manager, recommended holding some of the funds for class reunions and using the rest—over 80% of the account—for a scholarship.

Working with the Alumni Agencies, the Class of 2020 began a class scholarship in June 2020. Though no one in the class would have chosen the way it happened, these young alumni were able to give back as soon as their cadetships ended instead of years later, enabling them to bring “something good out of 2020.”

The scholarship account is not yet fully funded, but with small contributions from each BR, the scholarship can be fully funded in a few years. Alex Dragan ’20, one of the 2020 class agents, explained in the 2021-1 Alumni Review class notes that fully funding the scholarship wouldn’t require huge sacrifices from the class. In fact, if each BR contributes about $30 total, the scholarship will reach fully funded status. People outside the class can also donate.

“I am very excited we’ve established this scholarship, but I’m even more excited to see where it goes in the future,” Austin said. “I think we have the opportunity through continued and sustained giving to memorialize our class … We have a unique opportunity to create a lasting legacy for the Class of 2020 at VMI. I’m very excited to see where that goes.”

Financial help is incredibly important to cadets. Some cadets are not able to continue their VMI journeys because of financial problems. “We had plenty of BRs throughout our cadetship [who] could not come back because of financial reasons,” Quarles said.

More financial aid can make leaving or staying “more of a personal decision and not a forced decision. Really, the whole purpose is to help individuals with financial constraints,” Quarles said. “This is just us doing our part.”

To donate to the Class of 2020 Memorial Scholarship, click here.

  • Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist