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Jerome Brinkley ’84: Why I VMI

Jerome Brinkley ’84


Jerome Brinkley ’84 has always been a dreamer—but also a doer. A childhood dream of becoming an astronaut brought him to VMI, and his can-do spirit enabled him to push through when the Institute’s academic challenge threatened to end his cadetship. Poor vision kept him from commissioning into the Air Force and becoming a pilot, but he stayed at VMI, earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.

Today, Brinkley strives to bring alumni together, just as he did 10 years ago when he organized the Coastal Carolina – Charleston Chapter. His passion is reminding them that love for the Institute should pull alumni together even when differing social and political views might otherwise drive them apart.

“There’s a bond that only the alumni understand,” said Brinkley, a resident of Charleston, South Carolina, who served as the Coastal Carolina – Charleston Chapter president from 2019–22. “The alumni know that, whether it’s their brother rats or friends who were in classes the year before or the year after they graduated, they’d been through the same tough experience.”

Brinkley matriculated from Chesapeake, Virginia, the son of a mother who’d grown up in La Rochelle, France, during World War II. She’d met Brinkley’s father, a native Virginian, on an Army base in France, and Brinkley spent his early years in that nation. The family later moved to Texas and then back to Virginia, where Brinkley felt some pressure to attend the same public college many of his relatives had attended.

“I chose a different path,” said Brinkley, explaining that he’d come up with a plan at the age of 12 that he hoped would take him all the way to NASA: Attend a military school and become a military pilot, then a test pilot.

Brinkley was in very good shape physically, but academics were another matter. “When I started at VMI, I was not ready for it academically,” he noted. “And so, the first semester that I was there, my GPA was less than 1.0. I felt like I was just failing everything except for ROTC and rat boxing,”

By the end of his rat year, Brinkley had realized that he wasn’t meant to be a civil engineer. A switch to English proved to be fortuitous: “So each semester, my GPA continuously went up and up and up and up.”

At the same time Brinkley’s grades were improving, he was feeling the brother rat bond that only those who’ve experienced it can understand and learning the self-starter life lessons that VMI teaches.

“One of the things that VMI has done for me, and I know it does for a lot of other alumni, for the cadets, is … they teach you how to be creative, how to think outside of the box, how to create something out of nothing, how to be an organizer,” he explained.

It was that drive to organize and bring alumni together that drove Brinkley to organize a new chapter. “Life is busy, but sometimes you have to take time out for things that are near and dear to your heart,” he said of the chapter’s beginnings. “So, the first meeting, we had two [alumni], and then it just kept growing and growing and growing. And next thing you know, we had 110, from Myrtle Beach all the way down to Beaufort, South Carolina. And now we’ve got over 200 in the Coastal Chapter.”

As a proud alumnus and a “big networker,” by his own admission, Brinkley has felt pain over the past several years as debates over historical remembrance and other issues have left some of his fellow alumni feeling alienated. He’s eager to let those people know that VMI is still VMI—and current cadets need alumni support.

“The thing is, you have to remember that alumni supported us as cadets, and we should support the cadets now,” he stated. “Take time out and meet some of the cadets, and you’ll fall in love with these guys and gals. I mean, they’re really fantastic students, and they still abide by the honor system.”

Honor, the bedrock of VMI, is what sets the Institute apart from other schools, Brinkley believes. “I think we’re the only school in the country that has a true honor code that’s enforced and that’s followed by the class,” he said.

According to Brinkley, the attributes that make VMI unique are precisely those that should draw alumni together. “You can’t give up on your brother rat,” he commented. “You can’t give up on the Institute. Don’t ever give up. Never say die.”

Brinkley has another message he’d like to share: Come to your reunions, even if you’re feeling lukewarm about attendance. “When you go to reunion and see your BRs, it’s wonderful,” he said. “It’s a great feeling, and everybody’s happy. Even some of the guys you didn’t get along with—you’re happy to see each other because you’re still alive.”

  • Victoria Ferris

    Victoria Ferris Social Media and Communications Strategist

    The social media and communications strategist is responsible for creating compelling, audience-appropriate, multi-channel content for social media, and for monitoring the VMI Alumni Agencies' social media accounts. The strategist supports all communications efforts, including email marketing deployment and training, website updating, and video editing.

    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.