“When I was a junior in high school, my eldest brother decided on attending VMI, [and] I distinctly remember I had told myself I wouldn’t make the same mistake of losing my college experience as he had. I’m currently a 2nd Class cadet at VMI—strange how that one worked out.”
Cadet Gabriel Fanjul ’23 is a biology major from Franklin, Virginia. After graduation, he will commission into the Army. Fanjul grew up in a family that valued faith, discipline, and character, and he attended a very small high school.
Though Fanjul initially had no desire to attend VMI, his perspective changed after attending an open house and staying with his older brother.
“Watching him interact with his brother rats, who he had only known for several months, in a fashion that was closer than he did with any of his friends back home was something I wanted,” Fanjul said.
“I decided I wanted to leave college with something more than just a degree—I wanted to see growth in my leadership and resilience,” Fanjul continued. “Growth is not something that takes place in comfort, but instead under tension. It slowly became more and more clear to me that no normal college experience would be able to place me under the tension that VMI would.”
Fanjul faced the rigors of the Rat Line, the high academic workload, and the physical challenges of the VMI experience. The pressures wore on him, and during his 3rd Class year, he realized he needed support to succeed at VMI.
“I decided I wanted to leave college with something more than just a degree—I wanted to see growth in my leadership and resilience.”Cadet Gabriel Fanjul ’23
“A challenge I overcame here at VMI was being strong enough to ask for help,” Fanjul said. “I created this image and felt like it would get damaged if I asked for help or wasn’t succeeding in all aspects of my cadetship. In my 3rd Class year, I fell into a place of depression, saw my grades plummet, and strayed farther from God than ever, all because I was following that mentality.”
Fanjul decided to reach out to one of the VMI chaplains, and they started meeting once a week.
“After that, I realized just how helpful using a resource here at VMI was, and I started plugging myself into every opportunity I could to help with my mental health, religion, and academics,” Fanjul said. “It wasn’t long until I started watching my grades lift as I started attending group study sessions. I learned how to restore my relationship with God. Finally, my mental health returned to normal as I realized I didn’t have to try and figure things out by myself with places like the Cadet Counseling Center on [post] present if I ever wanted to just talk or if I needed help.
“There were resources here at VMI to ensure that I would succeed, but it wasn’t till I started utilizing them that I saw changes in my circumstances,” Fanjul added.
Now, Fanjul is a leader in the Cadet Equity Association and an active member in Ranger Challenge and the club powerlifting team.
Fanjul hopes future cadets will accept the challenge of VMI and be aware of resources of support on post.
“VMI should not be mistaken for a place that magically changes you or a college that promises success,” Fanjul said. “VMI is a place that presents an opportunity for change and a secure future, but it is also the type of place to question you with each of the challenges it presents [and pushes you] to work your butt off for that opportunity.”
Eric Moore VMI Communications & Marketing