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Foundation Scholarship Banquet Showcases Donor Support

Cadet Kate Taylor ’24, a member of the Institute’s NCAA swim team who will commission into the U.S. Army, spoke at this year's Foundation Scholarship Banquet.—Photos by Joe Czekner, VMI Alumni Agencies.

On the evening of Saturday, April 22, 2023, a sizeable crowd of alumni, cadets, and other members of the VMI family gathered in Marshall Hall to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate a unique group of people: The scholarship donors whose financial assistance makes it possible for so many cadets to attend VMI.

This year’s VMI Foundation Scholarship Banquet attracted approximately 100 fund representatives and their guests, 75 cadets, members of the Foundation Board of Trustees, and other friends of the Institute.

Welcoming the evening’s attendees was Tom Zarges ’70, VMI Alumni Agencies Board of Directors chairman and Foundation Board of Trustees president. In his remarks, Zarges noted the unique qualities of VMI cadets that enable them to succeed at a school where challenges are an intrinsic part of the cadet experience. “So, at VMI, to even be here as a cadet means that VMI noticed something out of the ordinary about you, your self-discipline, determination, and your purpose for being here,” Zarges stated. “Our admission criteria are aimed at attracting not the privileged but a broad cross-section of potential leaders, those leaders who have the grit to see it through.”

But admitting potential cadets who have the grit and resolve to stay the course at the Institute is but a first step; VMI’s commitment to cadet success, Zarges commented, is undergirded by the Institute’s faculty, including approximately 30 individuals who hold endowed chairs and professorships. Small class sizes, faculty who overwhelmingly hold terminal degrees in their fields, and ensuring cadets have access to undergraduate research are all hallmarks of a VMI education.

With those supports in place, cadets can flourish—even if their academic beginnings at the Institute have been less than stellar. “Over the years, we’ve witnessed amazing transformations in which rats initially stumbling academically went on to wear academic stars,” said Zarges. “As long as our cadets don’t give up on themselves, we don’t give up on them, either.”

But for many cadets, just being at VMI and open to the Institute’s possibilities requires financial support, given the extraordinary cost of higher education today, and Zarges thanked the donors for providing just that. “No matter what changes take place in the world, our graduates will continue to provide what our nation will always need: Honor, civility, integrity, nobility of character, and a sense of selfless sacrifice,” he said. “This would not happen without the generous donors represented in this room tonight.”

Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, followed Zarges to the podium, where he shared his own story of having his life changed by being able to attend VMI, thanks to scholarship support. No one in Wins’ family had attended college, and his father had only been able to finish high school by earning a GED. “I know firsthand how financial support can change the trajectory of a young man or woman,” said Wins. “I was given the opportunity to pursue my dreams, both academically and athletically. There’s no doubt this helped set up my military career—everything that I would do in my life after I left the Institute.”

But the superintendent was quick to note that his story is not unique. Hundreds of cadets have had the same experience thanks to the generosity of those who came before them, and that pattern of generosity continues today.

“VMI is not only a better place to be from—it is also a great place to be.”

Cadet Kate Taylor ’24

In his remarks, Wins mentioned several current cadets who are benefiting from scholarship support, among them Cadet Patrick Simmons ’25, a Peay Merit Scholar who plans to commission into the U.S. Marine Corps; Cadet Kate Taylor ’24, a member of the Institute’s NCAA swim team who will commission into the U.S. Army; and Cadet Brandon Marks ’23, Honor Court president.

Cadets such as these benefit from the “strong support from our alumni and our friends,” the superintendent noted. “These are just a few examples of cadets who are benefiting from your financial support,” Wins continued. “I’m sure many of you are like myself and these cadets. You have similar stories of how others helped you make it through your undergraduate education. … I hope you can see that we are still providing our cadets with the stellar education you and I have received.”

Taylor, a native of Newton, Massachusetts, also addressed the gathering, offering heartfelt remarks about how the Institute had changed her life. Coming out of high school, Taylor applied to several large universities, but with the guidance of her parents, Taylor began to realize that perhaps schools such as those would not be her best path. “I realized these other schools would always be there,” she stated. “The challenge that VMI was offering me was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity I had to take. I realized that the goals, dreams, and aspirations I had would only benefit from the structure the Institute provides.”

Taylor applied to VMI and was accepted. Then, she and her parents realized they could not afford VMI’s out-of-state tuition. Taylor contacted the Institute’s swim coach, passing along the regretful message that she would not be able to attend—and later that day, she received an email telling her that she’d been awarded a second scholarship. This one tipped the balance in Taylor’s favor, and she was able to accept her appointment.

Having never visited Virginia before Matriculation Day, much less VMI, Taylor arrived on post in August 2020 with a commitment to stay the course through the “transformational adversity” the Institute has long been known for. “Everything I did and will continue to do, the way I strive to do everything I can, is out of respect for those who believed in me, for myself, this place, this very special place, and then the people within it have made me who I am today,” said Taylor.

“It is a privilege to be on this post,” Taylor concluded. “Even the bad days here are a privilege and one that is made possible by the very people in this room. I truly feel that, for me, the common VMI narrative has been flipped: VMI is not only a better place to be from—it is also a great place to be.”

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.

    Joe Czekner

    Joe Czekner Creative Content Manager

    The creative content manager is responsible for creating high-quality marketing and communications materials in support of the VMI Alumni Agencies mission. This role will also provide photography support for the Alumni Agencies events throughout the year.