Progress

Irvine: ‘It’s Our Obligation to Give Back’

Carson Irvine

3:21

Even though he’s not an alumnus himself, Carson Irvine sings VMI’s praises whenever he’s given a chance. After all, it’s easy to do when his alumnus son has racked up an eye-popping list of achievements less than a decade after graduation.

“VMI is an institution of higher education that will always give back to your son or daughter should they need help,” said Irvine. “They always have, and they always will. So, if [VMI] keeps giving to him … it’s our obligation to give back. … And if the parents can afford to do it even if they have to stretch a little bit, it’s a place you should give back because we’ve certainly gotten a lot from VMI.”

Irvine, a Roanoke, Virginia, businessman, has supported VMI ever since his son, Clark Irvine ’13, matriculated in 2009.

Neither Irvine nor his wife, Virginia, had any connection to the Institute or to the military, but as graduation from Hidden Valley High School neared for Clark, his father suggested that he take a look at VMI.

Irvine recalls telling his son, “You want to put VMI on your list just to check it off … you might see something there that you like.”

The younger Irvine looked—and liked what he saw. “Clark had some spirit in him that said, ‘This is the school for me,’” his father recounted.

That initial look turned into an application, which quickly turned into an acceptance. “He had his application in on a Thursday and was accepted on a Saturday,” Irvine said. “I think he saw VMI as an opportunity to do something unique and different than what other schools might offer. And once he got there, he never looked back.”

Irvine said his son had three main goals while attending VMI: Achieving academic excellence, serving as a citizen-soldier, and playing football as a cadet-athlete. The younger Irvine achieved all three. He ended his time at the Institute as a distinguished graduate with Institute Honors, double majoring in international studies and modern languages and cultures (Spanish), receiving the George C. Marshall award as a 1st Class cadet, and playing football for the Keydets as a long snapper after coming to the team as a walk-on.

Even away from post, Clark was busy: During his cadetship, he completed internships with the office of U.S. Senator Mark Warner, the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Heritage Foundation—all possible because of the connections forged at VMI, according to his father.

At graduation, Clark commissioned into the U.S. Army and served for six years with the 82nd Airborne Division, completing his service with a Ranger tab and the rank of captain. He’s also volunteered with nonprofits in Bolivia and Ecuador, and closer to home with Boys Home in Covington, Virginia.
“He’s had a roadmap, and he’s been on that roadmap ever since [VMI graduation],” said Irvine.

After completing his Army career, Clark returned to school and received a master’s degree from Oxford University in Russian and European Studies. He’s currently getting a Master of Business Administration degree from the highly prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, while concurrently attending the Kennedy School of Public Policy at Harvard University for a master’s degree in public administration.

The ability to attend those schools is no small feat—and one Clark’s father attributes to the fundamentals learned at VMI. “VMI had prepared him very well, in terms of time management and work ethic,” he said. “Getting up every morning, being the first one up and the last one to bed, and keeping yourself in shape both mentally and physically [was important].

“His resume is set up in a way that he’ll be successful for him and his family for the rest of his life. And for the rest of his life, he will be able to make that connection to VMI.”

Irvine and his wife have been ardent supporters of VMI during and after their son’s time at the Institute. As he explained, “We have the opportunity to give money to other schools of higher education, and frankly, we choose not to.”

Irvine is also giving his time by serving on the Keydet Club Board of Governors.

While VMI started as a checkmark on a list, giving to the Institute is far more than that to Irvine. It is an emotional connection that is paying dividends in his son’s life.

“And my mother always told me, she said, ‘Judge your success by the success of your children.’ So if that’s the case, with my son, I’m pretty successful,” Irvine said with a laugh.

Success, it turns out, begets success: At the end of January 2022, Clark accepted a position with McKinsey & Company, a global management consulting firm.

  • Christian Heilman

    Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content

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