This year, the Honor Court is expanding the model of educating the Corps of Cadets related to the VMI Honor Code. Members are working to grow and improve the Institute’s already robust honor education to a “more proactive” model, organized by class year. The expanded education is “still in the fledgling stages,” explained Cadet John Delaney ’22, Honor Court president. It will be implemented incrementally and changed, adjusted, and developed over time.
Rats and 4th Class: Learning the System
Beginning with their very first days on post, rats learn about the honor system through several talks. They learn the expectations of being a VMI cadet and how to prevent themselves from stepping outside the guidelines of honorable living. After Breakout, the Honor Court’s goal is to teach the new 4th Class to “embrace” the honor system.
Most people learn to follow rules and laws of daily life not because they like following rules, but because they prefer not to have the associated consequences, whether it be a speeding ticket or something more serious.
“As anyone who’s been around knows, you do most things out of fear of [negative consequences]—and the Honor Code is no exception,” Delaney said. “But by the time you break out … you should know your place a little bit better. We want to invite [4th Class cadets] up to Shell Hall, give them a tour, and show them why … living honorably is something you truly can embrace—not out of fear, but out of wanting to be a better person.”
3rd Class: Embracing the System
For 3rd Class cadets, Honor Court personnel want to re-emphasize the rules of behavior and the benefits of living an honorable lifestyle. The focus is “embracing the code and understanding it,” Delaney said. “Because by the end of your 3rd Class year, you start electing your class’ representation onto the Honor Court.” It is particularly important for the 3rd Class to understand that Honor Court representatives are not the most popular cadets but are “stand-up cadets who everyone knows are always willing to do the right thing and will take on the tough task of enforcing and defending and protecting the Honor Code.”
2nd Class: Success is in the Details
When cadets enter their 2nd Class year, they have more authority in the Corps and begin making decisions for others. For this class, the Honor Court wants to begin teaching the technical, how-to aspect of the Honor Code. The impetus behind education during the 2nd Class year is making sure cadets understand that success is in the details, from writing permits to effective trial procedures.
“In the 2nd Class, you’re really understanding the nitty gritty [details] so you can be a better Corps leader as you’re taking on more responsibility,” Delaney said.
1st Class—and Beyond: Your Personal Honor Code
During their final year at the Institute, cadets begin to recognize the strength in accepting the VMI Honor Code as a personal way of life. Honor Court members hope to support this transition in two ways: Help dykes inform their rats and highlight what living the Honor Code might look like in the future beyond VMI.
When cadets reach their 1st Class year, “the focus is on your dyke-rat relationship,” Delaney said. Dykes—different from the scurrying, straining rats they were four years ago—don’t follow the Honor Code out of fear of consequences; they have accepted the Honor Code as their own. “If you’ve made it to your 1st Class year, you know what’s expected of you … you’ve probably allowed the Honor Code to shape you into a better person, because you’ve truly embraced it.”
This benefits the Corps as a whole, since the 1st Class cadets will then pass their experience to their rats, encouraging them to learn about the Honor Code and “why it is truly important.”
“The Class of ’21, they saw something in me, they felt I could handle it, [so] I know I can handle it.”Cadet John Delaney '22, Honor Court president
The other—perhaps larger—point of learning for 1st Class cadets is the great unknown, “going beyond understanding the implications of living an honorable life in college,” Delaney said. “Post-collegiately—whether you’re an infantry officer or you’re studying law somewhere, it’s how this [the Honor Code] can truly shape you and how you should stick with [it], wherever you are.”
Though Delaney holds a high visibility position now, when he matriculated, he was just another rat—even (or maybe especially) to his brother, Dolan ’20. Dolan was the first sergeant for Company I, and Delaney matriculated into Company I. He was soon transferred to another company, so he spent less than a day in Company I. But during those 12 hours, Delaney said his older brother “gave me his share of the Rat Line.”
Aside from the 12 hours he spent under his brother’s cadre tutelage, going to VMI with his brother was “like having a second dyke.” The two are the same major—English—and even had a class together.
From his brothers—another brother is a Naval Academy alumnus—and father, Class of 1985, Delaney knew how busy he would be at military school. Early in his cadetship, he decided he wouldn’t seek rank, but focus on grades and physical fitness. He stuck to that resolve into his 3rd Class year. Then came elections for the Honor Court. The elections start big—the class votes in 50 people—and the group gets smaller through successive votes, which whittle the group down to 25, 10, and so on, until finally the class chooses five cadets. Delaney’s name was in the first round of 50. Cadets can pull their names out of the voting. He didn’t pull his name out, supposing that his BRs would not continue to vote for him—but they did.
“I was really on the fence about it, because I knew that it was such a big position,” he said. “You do have to give so much time for it. You’d better be good at it. And you’d better be ready to put forward that time and that effort.”
When the last five names, those who would represent the Class of 2022 on the Honor Court, were published, Delaney’s name was one of the five. He wasn’t sure he was up to the task.
“At first, I was pretty nervous,” he remembered. “One of the things that comforted me was just knowing, if my BRs picked me, then they obviously see something, regardless of whether I saw it or not.”
Last year, the Class of 2021 Honor Court members looked at the class below them and selected the right person for each job. When Delaney learned he was chosen as the president of the Honor Court, he again went through self-examination. He thought, “I really hope I’m the guy for this job, that I can … actually do what’s expected of me and be a good Honor Court president.”
Over the summer, while these thoughts were going through his mind, he took comfort in knowing—just like when his BRs elected him to the Honor Court—that someone else saw something in him. “The Class of ’21, they saw something in me, they felt I could handle it, [so] I know I can handle it.”
In total, there are 14 cadets on the Honor Court. The 1st Class representatives are the president, vice president for defense, vice president for education, vice president for investigations, and three prosecutors. The 2nd Class members also number seven and are assistant prosecutors. All members work together, Delaney emphasized.
“It’s not like I have the final say on things,” he explained. “We all get together. When we make decisions, we make them together. The president is the overseeing judge of the trial, but it’s not like my words are the final say. I wouldn’t even want to [have the final say], because a lot of those guys are a lot smarter than me—a lot better cadets than me. I think it would be a shame if we ran it that way. We all take each other’s opinions and word equally. It always helps me know I’m not going at it alone.”
Delaney plans to attend Officer Candidate School following his graduation and commission into the Navy.
Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist
The editorial specialist assists the editor-in-chief in various tasks relating to the production of quarterly and monthly publications, as well as prepares written materials for publication.