Stories of Impact

Ibanez ’24: “The More Uncommon Path”

Jacob Ibanez ’24


Cadet Jacob Ibanez ’24 came to VMI from California, seeking an uncommon college experience and a chance to commission into the military. He found both—plus a brotherhood he says he’d never find at another school and an unmatched preparation for a military career.

Ibanez, an international studies major who will graduate May 16 and commission into the U.S. Army, grew up in San Diego. From an early age, he felt a call to military service, and while his older brothers chose to stay close to home for college, Ibanez knew that he was looking for the road less traveled.

After exploring the senior military colleges online, Ibanez selected VMI. However, in spring 2020, a visit to post wasn’t possible due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, so Ibanez arrived on Matriculation Day, having made his college choice sight unseen.

To make it through the Rat Line, Ibanez focused on the older cadets in front of him, knowing that following VMI’s time-honored, prescribed path would be the only way to reach their status. “I would tell myself in those tough moments, just know that everything is temporary,” he related. “And what you’re doing right now is going to make you better in the future. Even if you don’t see the end goal in sight. … And so you may not be there today. You’re definitely not going to be there tomorrow, but you’re going to be there in the future.”

Ibanez’s future wound up including Corps Bible study and the Marathon Club, plus plenty of training with Army ROTC, but he chose not to hold rank. For Ibanez, choices like these—whether or not to hold rank, for example—are a strength of the VMI experience. “You can choose to focus your efforts in different places,” he explained. “You can get involved in a number of clubs here, and that’s where I found my liking to be more. … And so just there’s a lot of different opportunities, and if you want a leadership opportunity here at VMI, you definitely are going to be able to find one.”

“It really filled me with a great sense of pride, knowing that what I was doing was different than what was already being done.”

Cadet Jacob Ibanez ’24

Academically, Ibanez spent a semester abroad in Seville, Spain—an opportunity he calls “a memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

On post, he’s been challenged by VMI’s demanding curriculum and thankful for the undergirding of the Honor Code. “The Honor Code is an extremely important thing in my day-to-day,” he noted. “The only thing that you really have control over here is your attitude, effort, and your focus. And a large part of that is your personal honor. And so, really, the only one who can take that away from you is yourself.”

Last summer, Ibanez had the opportunity to attend the U.S. Army Cadet Command’s Advance Camp, a 35-day leadership training program for future officers. There, during the 12-day field training portion, Ibanez found out just how well VMI had prepared him for this experience. When others began to flag, Ibanez realized he had a chance to step up and lead. “So when you’re there, especially by day nine, day 10, a lot of people, their spirit kind of gets broken,” said Ibanez. “They get weighed down by what they’re doing. … I was able to really just kind of rally some people and kind of lift their spirits up because that’s what we’re taught here. That’s when you really have to shine at the end.”

In addition, conversations with ROTC cadets from other schools left Ibanez with a newfound appreciation for VMI’s rigor. “I was able to talk to some other cadets from other senior military colleges,” he stated. “And they all said the same thing—that I probably have it worse here at VMI. And then, after swapping some stories of what we have to do as cadets, what is required of us on a daily basis, this is definitely the toughest senior military college.”

The experience, he noted, gave him much food for thought. “It filled me with a great sense of pride knowing that myself and my brother rats, we chose the the more uncommon path of an already less taken path,” Ibanez noted. “So we chose the harder version of something else. And so it really filled me with a great sense of pride, knowing that what I was doing was different than what was already being done.”

As the days to graduation tick away, Ibanez is grateful he chose VMI. “The thing about VMI is the people make it worth it,” he commented. “This is definitely a tough place to be, but it’s a good place to be from because of who you interact with every day. Whether it be your brother rats, your friends in different classes, or your professors, you just get to interact with some really awesome human beings, and you really can’t find that anywhere else.”

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