This year, 2022, marks a quarter-century of women attending VMI. Recently, an early Institute alumna sat down with a current cadet to compare notes and experiences.
Lara Tyler Chambers ’03 and Cadet Kasey Meredith ’22 have both marked big firsts for VMI women. Chambers is the first female Institute graduate to serve on the VMI Board of Visitors, while Meredith is the Corps’ first female to serve as regimental commander.
They started their conversation with the usual question to all alumni: “Why did you choose to attend VMI?”
Chambers wanted to study engineering and liked the Institute’s discipline and small size. “I needed to have someone hold me under their thumb and tell me to sit down and study,” she remembered. In looking at other engineering programs, “they tend to be huge … I just knew I would get lost.”
Meredith’s “why” came from her mother and the military. The international studies major wanted to emulate her mother, who had served in the U.S. Navy, by enlisting after high school. Her mother asked Meredith to get an education before military service, which led her to VMI.
Both women held leadership positions while cadets: Meredith, as mentioned above, is the 2021-22 regimental commander. Chambers was the Corps’ first S7, the staff for Corps morale. Chambers, who laughed when recalling what she thought of Corps morale—“Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?”—remembers difficulties the position presented.
With COVID-19, plus all-around leadership changes at VMI, Chambers said she “couldn’t imagine” Meredith’s experience. Her class, Meredith explained, is fulfilling an extremely important role at VMI—a place where young cadets learn from older cadets—by teaching the younger classes.
“The Class of ’22 is the only one who has been through a full year of VMI, without the pandemic … encroaching on any activities,” she said. Leading her class in carrying on at VMI in fall 2021 was “stressful” and “a humbling experience,” Meredith commented. She worked hard professionally and personally and even earned back her academic stars for her final semester at the Institute.
As the old saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. When stress comes, Chambers asked, who does Meredith talk to? The commandant and his staff are always available to listen and advise. “While they’re always strict on you and always tough on you, they care about your well-being,” Meredith said.
Alumni are also a source of encouragement for Meredith. “I have a strong backing from a lot of VMI alumni,” she said. She’s inspired by alumni letters and support, which have brightened many of her toughest days.
What changes does Chambers see at VMI, asked Meredith, compared to her own cadet days? The caliber of cadets, Chambers answered.
“You were clearly very driven. And I think that’s just really impressive,” Chambers said to Meredith, noting that the quality of matriculants is higher. Chambers also said “the level of civility at VMI” has increased since she graduated.
Both women agreed that the Institute was the right choice for them and has prepared them well—and they would make the same choice again. “[I] would do it all over again in the exact same year with the exact same people,” Chambers said.
She concluded the conversation with praise and thanks for Meredith.
“You’ve done a great job in … one of the hardest years for a regimental commander in the Institute’s history,” Chambers said. “We owe you. I always say that I will never be able to repay VMI for all the opportunities, but in your instance, VMI owes you. So, thank you very much for your dedication and your professionalism.”
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