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Pass in Review: Out-of-the-Box Thinkers Kick Off Inaugural Mentorship Program

Members of the Class of 1975 stand on the steps of Preston Library to pose for their reunion class picture.

The Class of 1975 stands for their class photo at their 45+1 Reunion in September 2021. The Class of 1975 is one-half of the inaugural Pass in Review program; the other half is the 2022+3 Rat Mass.—Photo by Molly Rolon, VMI Alumni Agencies.

What happens when you take a well-experienced, professionally accomplished group of guys and put them together with a bunch of fresh-out-of-high-school kids who think they’re ready for anything?

At VMI, you get the Pass in Review Program. Modeled after similar programs at West Point and the Naval Academy, Pass in Review culminates with two memorable events: The 50th Reunion for the older class and graduation for the younger class. Specific events during a four-year cadetship—like Matriculation Day, Breakout, and Ring Figure—are opportunities for the two classes to meet and get to know each other.

“It’s a way to build and increase meaningful engagement between alumni and the Corps of Cadets,” explained Thom Brashears ’95, Alumni Association chief operating officer.

Matriculation Day 2021 marked a “soft launch” of the program at VMI.

The inaugural Pass in Review alumni class is the Class of 1975, and their leadership enthusiastically agreed to participate in the program. Each year, as they come alongside the young cadets, the Class of 1975 will keep notes and build a manual for the classes that will follow behind them. Starting something new, almost from the ground up, suits the Class of 1975.

“We’ve always been a class that’s been leading the way, interested in new things, and stepping out and doing new things,” said Ron Norman ’75, class vice president. “We think our class is a good fit for this. We’ve always been about helping folks.”

“We’ve always been out-of-the-box thinkers,” said Guy Conte ’75, class president. The Class of 1975 was the first class to have different stones in their rings. They proposed the change to the superintendent, and the class received approval to order different stones.

To help pay for rings, the Class of 1975 also applied critical thinking skills. At the time, some 1st Class cadets owned different franchises to raise money for the class. Franchises would do things like sell mugs. Toward graduation, the 1st Class cadets would sell their franchises. The Class of 1975 again worked with the administration, combined the franchises, and established the 3rd Class Finance Committee. After they founded the committee, the Class of 1975 continued to think proactively. They contacted parents and sold them birthday cakes for their cadets, had pizzas delivered to barracks, and tapped internal talent with a woodworking BR who made unique items to sell. All told, the class raised around $20,000, Conte said. In 2021 that translates to approximately $130,000.

They’re bringing the same energy and innovation to the Pass in Review program. One aspect Conte is particularly looking forward to is the possibility of panel discussions. The class could have panel discussions about career direction, major selection, and branches of service. Aside from myriad experience in business and industry, the class has five flag officers and “dozens of colonels” who have tremendous experience that current cadets can draw from via the Pass in Review program. From Moody Hall, Brashears is working to coordinate these dedicated networking sessions.

Scott Risser ’75 (left) and Jim Turpin ’75 on post during Matriculation Day 2021 to meet and talk with incoming rats and their parents. —Photo by Molly Rolon, VMI Alumni Agencies.

“I think [panel sessions] will help provide clarity and answer some questions about particular majors and branches of service,” Conte said. He also feels that involvement with the Ring Committee is essential, including talking about the ring design and what 1975 learned about negotiating.

For the Class of 1975’s first official interaction with the Rat Mass of 2022+3, Jim Turpin ’75 and Scott Risser ’75 were on post Aug. 21 for Matriculation Day. They watched the process and talked with many incoming cadets and their parents. Since they began their VMI journeys in fall 1971, neither had watched a class matriculate.
They are enthusiastic supporters of the program, though both note that if Pass in Review had been around when they matriculated, the senior alumni class would have been the Class of 1925.

“Which means we’re really old,” Turpin said, smiling.

“That’s a very sobering thing about our own mortality, but it’s a nice way to give back to the school,” Risser added. “I’m excited. We talked to the parents about it [on Matriculation Day], and they all seem really excited about it, too.”

The elder class will mentor, teach, and advise the younger class.

“While our class is 46 years removed from our cadet life, we have 46 more years of life’s experiences to share with those preparing for their adult life’s journey,” Conte said.

Participating will also benefit them—the Class of 1975 will meet cadets and get an up-close look at how the Institute works today. “We’re excited about the opportunity to share our experience with them and also to learn from them as young folks in this day and time,” Norman said.

Risser and Turpin noted a few differences about Matriculation Day. Now, before entering barracks as rats, incoming cadets can meet local organizations and churches at the Matriculation Fair, held in Cocke Hall. They also have a chance to learn about their academics and other aspects of cadet life. All academic departments, the Miller Academic Center, the Athletic Department, the registrar, the comptroller, the ROTC departments, and more have representation around the Corps Physical Training Facility’s upper track. Incoming cadets and their families work their way around the track, stopping at relevant tables to speak with faculty and staff. This portion of Matriculation Day finishes with soon-to-be-rats signing the Matriculation Book.

Both Risser, a career Army officer, and Turpin, who has spent years in politics and lobbying, hope to mentor cadets in their career fields. Turpin had a VMI mentor himself, Ernest “Judge” Williams, Class of 1935. His mentor taught him about lobbying and “what to do and what not to do,” Turpin said.

Through three decades in the Army, Risser was always able to rely on his VMI training. As he becomes acquainted with cadets, he’ll emphasize that everything at VMI happens for a purpose. “This stuff might not make sense to you now, but here’s how it helped me,” is what he hopes to pass on to cadets.

“We are really excited to work with them [the Class of 1975] and build that connection between them and the Rat Line,” said Cadet Noah Kirk ’22, 1st Class president.
As the future Class of 2025 moves down the stoops, the Class of 1975 will be with them, supporting and guiding them. The Class of 1975 will also take notes, keeping track of what worked and what should be improved—and hand that on the classes following behind them. Next year, when the Class of 1976 begins the same journey with the future Class of 2026, they’ll have a reference.

“I’ve spoken to … friends of mine who graduated from Annapolis and West Point, and they speak very highly of the programs; these programs have been in place for a long time,” Conte said. “We have the opportunity to create a skeletal program, and then continue each year to review the program and to continue to refine it and enhance it, build upon it.”

For more information about Pass in Review or to get involved, contact Brashears at 800-444-1839, ext. 230, or tbrashears@vmiaa.org.

  • Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist