Featured Article

Andre Thornton ’98:

Andre Thornton ’98


“It wasn’t my first choice,” Andre Thornton ’98 said about choosing VMI. Initially, he was looking for “fun—until I realized the impact that hard could have on the rest of my life.”

The “deciding factor” that made him “comfortable” about attending VMI came from the people he saw when he visited VMI. “They were leaders, but also very humble.”

Looking back on Matriculation Day, Thornton says it is like “having a child. People try to prepare you for it.” What people told him ahead of time could not ready him completely for the emotions he felt on that day, which remains the “longest day” of his life. He remembers looking around and seeing others going through the same experience. This, he says, is the beginning of the bonds that make up the VMI alumni network.

When the subject of VMI changing comes up, Thornton is glad it did change. If VMI had not changed in the late 1960s, he would not have been able to attend the Institute.

One of the alumni he learned about during his cadetship was Jonathan Daniels ’61. Daniels was shot and killed in rural Alabama in 1965. He shielded an African-American teenage girl, Ruby Sales, with his own body and lost his life. Daniels’ legacy was foundational to Thornton’s experience as an African-American cadet. He learned “there are people that come here [VMI] who go against the grain to stand up for what’s the right thing to do, and they’ll do so in the service of other people.”

Diversity at VMI has changed, and the Institute is working on the next step, improving inclusion. “Inclusion says everyone has a voice in this experience. There are opportunities for us to bond together, and whether we’re a part of the group that feels disenfranchised or not, they’re a part of us, because they’re a part of the VMI family,” Thornton explained. “Let’s leverage that bond in a way where everyone comes out better, the school comes out better.”

  • Christian Heilman

    Christian Heilman Director of Digital Content

    The director of digital content is responsible for creating original video and multimedia materials, as well as developing and editing web and digital content. The director is responsible for platform coordination and troubleshooting, to include the VMI Alumni Agencies’ primary websites, digital newsletter and other digital platforms.

    Molly Rolon

    Molly Rolon Editorial Specialist