Hanley ’23 and Castle ’24: An Abundance of Gratitude

Cadet Stephen Hanley ’23 and Thomas Williamson ’72 (right).

Cadet Stephen Hanley ’23 (left) is the 2021–22 recipient of the Thomas W. Williamson 1942 & 1972 Scholarship, began by Thomas Williamson ’72 (right). Recipient and donor converse in Preston Library in November 2022.—Photo by Micalyn Miller, VMI Alumni Agencies.

Two cadets who are recent recipients of the Thomas W. Williamson 1942 & 1972 Scholarship have just two words to say to their benefactor: “Thank you.”

Cadets Stephen Hanley ’23, the 2021–22 scholarship recipient, and Stephen Castle ’24, the 2022–23 recipient, were both surprised and pleased to learn of their good fortune. Both cadets are majoring in mechanical engineering and both come from middle-class families, so paying for a college education isn’t easy.

Hanley came to the Institute from Stuarts Draft, Virginia, a small community just 30 minutes north of post. He’s one of three children with a sister also in college, so the financial assistance he received from the Williamson Scholarship has been a real blessing.

“The appreciation I have—it’s hard to put into words because it’s just so liberating,” Hanley commented. “It’s so liberating, especially for someone my age, to get assistance of that magnitude. I’m just eternally grateful.”

Hanley originally thought he’d commission into the Marine Corps but ultimately decided he’d rather go straight to work as an engineer instead. Over the years, he has taken part in some of VMI’s extracurricular activities, including jiu-jitsu and the Glee Club, but overall, the engineering curriculum is so demanding that it’s left little time for much else.

This year, though, he’s holding rank in the Corps as the 3rd Battalion executive officer, and last year, as a 2nd Class cadet, he was a master sergeant and thus directly involved in training rats.

Being a member of cadre, he noted, helped him understand the true nature of leadership. “The biggest thing I learned, something I’ve tried to pass on to the people who I’m a mentor to, is that humility and servant leadership [are] always the foundation of leadership, no matter who your subordinates are,” Hanley said.

The tough love approach of the Rat Line, he added, should be rooted in a commitment to rat success. “If you can’t tie back to that foundation, I think that’s where a lot of people get lost,” he added.

Like Hanley, Castle is one of three children, and he also plans to put his engineering degree to use in the workforce immediately after graduation. A defensive lineman on the Keydet football team, he receives a football scholarship, but it’s not enough to cover the full cost of attendance at VMI.

“It’s great to get some more on top of that,” he commented. “I’m very blessed.”

Without the Williamson Scholarship, he noted, he’d have had to take out additional loans. Both of his parents work in education—his father as a central office administrator and his mother as a teacher—and he’s the second child to attend college. Next year, his younger brother, Sam Castle, is expected to matriculate with the Rat Mass of 2024+3, as he’s already committed to becoming a member of the Institute’s NCAA swim and dive team.

During his cadetship, Castle has enjoyed the friendships encouraged by the dyke system, recalling the “amazing” camaraderie he felt with his uncle dykes, Jordan Ward ’21 and Ashton J. “A.J.” Smith ’21. He also delved into independent research, completing a Summer Undergraduate Research Institute project this past summer with Col. Joyce Blandino, Ph.D., professor of mechanical engineering. Next summer, Castle hopes to work alongside her husband, Col. Joseph Blandino, Ph.D., also professor of mechanical engineering, on a research project for NASA. He’s earning concentrations in both nuclear engineering and aerospace engineering, with plans to put his degree to use in one of those areas after graduation.

Castle also plans to do for others what’s been done for him by someday establishing a scholarship at VMI.

“[Receiving a scholarship] makes me want to give back,” he stated. “It’ll be my turn to pay it forward.”

  • 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.