Remarks to the Class of 1957 - Class Reunion
27 April 2007
Members of the Class of 1957, spouses, and friends. Good evening and welcome back to VMI. It is a pleasure and an honor to speak to you this evening on this your 50th anniversary. VMI reunions are always very special events, but the one marking the 50th anniversary of your graduation from the Institute is, without question, a landmark event.
And what a turnout by your class. Congratulations.
It's been fifty years since you received your VMI diploma. a half century of association with the Institute. But, in fact, you need to add four years of your cadetship to that half century. So, it's been 54 years 54 years since you signed the matriculation book and became VMI cadets. If you are like me, sometimes it seems like just yesterday that we wore cadet gray, fell into ranks at the last drawn-out sound of the bugle, marched to class, cheered for our teams, dyked-out and paraded in view of the Barracks and House Mountain, served on guard during extreme weather, learned to disassemble and reassemble an M1 rifle - blindfolded - engaged in some clever pranks that added a little humor to the long and sometimes difficult days, went on military maneuvers, or relaxed in the old PX. That old PX is gone and, now, so is the one that replaced it. Soon there will be a new PX on Post. This little fact demonstrates one truth about VMI: change is constant. Over the past half century, VMI has changed in many aspects, but it remains the same in spirit and purpose and that is what counts the most. We continue to maintain traditions and focus on fundamentals.
Two hundred and eighty-six of you signed the VMI Matriculation book on 9
September 1953. You were met by a cadre of 60 cadets who introduced you to the Rat Line. On the Sunday before the old cadets returned to the Institute, you went to Cave Mountain Lake for a day of rest and relaxation. When you finally settled into a routine in Barracks, the Corps strength numbered 926. Your Brother Rat Walter O'Donohue, now deceased, later wrote in your Bomb: "None of us shall ever forget that eventful day in September of 1953 when we matriculated as rats, and the trials and tribulations which each of us had to face and overcome before we could rightfully assume the title of the Class of 1957." Although we shall always remember the discipline of the rat line, accompanied by the resurrections and straining over radiators in the rooms of old cadets, we find that the real significance of that first year at VMI lies in the closeness and mutual displeasure, suffering, and discouragement - this we have come to know as the 'Brother Rat spirit.' No less important, however, is our class spirit, born on May 17, 1954, when we emerged from the last company room, and VMI officially witnessed the advent of the Class of 1957." Like so many classes before you, you had weathered the storm and had overcome the trials of VMI's first year. And you were on your way
Maj. Gen. William H. Milton, Jr., Class of 1920, was in his second year as Superintendent. Also starting his second year at the Institute was your Commandant, Colonel Frank R. Pancake '38 who died in Staunton last year.
Your first year at the Institute was a memorable one for VMI. Lt. Edward R. Schowalter '51 was awarded the Medal of Honor for action in Korea. General Marshall was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace (December 10, 1953), in tribute for the Marshall Plan. Closer to home, the Keydet football team defeated Virginia Tech and won the Big Six Title in the state. The team was coached by that remarkable man, Coach John McKenna, who died only a few weeks ago and whose memorial service will be held here at VMI on 12 May with burial in Stonewall Jackson Cemetery in Lexington. In addition, the Corps marched at the Inauguration of Governor Thomas B. Stanley and, was the largest unit in the parade.
At the start of your third class year, a landmark dating from the first days of the Institute, finally disappeared. The old Guard Tree, a hickory tree that had been reduced to a large stump over time and because of a lightning strike, was finally removed from the Parade Ground. A marker was placed at the site - which still remains one of the few monuments to a tree that I know of. That year also saw the arrival of a new Dean, Dr. Lloyd Davidson, and the death of Blandy Clarkson '14, who had coached the famous "Flying Squadron" in the 1920s. As for your own team, it had a respectable 4-6 record that year. On the cultural side, the Glee Club, under the irrepressible Col. Herbert N. Dillard, sang for President Eisenhower.
Your second class year was focused on Ring figure and leadership positions in the Corps. The year ended at Finals when General Marshall addressed the graduates (13 June 1956) on the 55th anniversary of his own graduation from the Institute.
Your final year at the Institute saw the return of the Annual Spring Hike an exercise that had been put aside during the World War II years. But mainly, in the words of one, the year saw you, "set out to improve our school, our class, and our Corps." And, as a class and as alumni, you have been doing that ever since. At Finals, 179 of you were graduated. Harry Warner was your Valedictorian; John E. Woodward, Jr., won the First Jackson Hope Medal; Walter J. O'Donohue won the Second Jackson Hope Medal; and Oscar V. P. Sessoms, III, was awarded the Cincinnati Medal.
What a record you have achieved since those dramatic cadet days. I have the results here of a quick and very unscientific study of the accomplishments of members of your class. Taking the findings in order, 61 of you became businessmen, managers, investment professions, bankers, or CEOs; 37 became engineers; 22 became physicians or dentists; 22 were career military; 13 became teachers, professors, or education administrators; 8 went into government service; 8 became attorneys or judges; 7 became contractors; 4 became writers and newspaper men; 3 became chemists; two became farmers or ranchers; one became a pilot and one became a policeman. Of your class, 182 served in the armed forces; two were killed in Viet Nam and one died in an air crash in service. Two members of your class rose to flag rank: MG Richard Collier and MG Robert Wagner.
A few years ago, people around here spoke of the "57 Mafia" because there were so many '57 graduates serving the Institute. They included Joe Spivey, President of the Board of Visitors; Harry Warner, Executive Vice President of the VMI Foundation; COL Harold B. Snyder, Commandant; COL Leroy D. Hammond, Headquarters Executive; Ron McManus, Director of Post Services; Col. Don Jamison, Professor and Head of the Department of Civil Engineering; Col. Phil Peters, Professor and Head of the Physics Department; and still teaching Drummond Ayers, formerly of the New York Times and now Visiting Scholar in English. These men have been outstanding leaders of the Institute and I want to acknowledge their contributions this evening.
But let us not spend our entire evening just looking back. Reunion is also a time to reconnect with today's Institute. This means learning about where the Institute is today and where it is heading.
We are especially proud of new levels of excellence in our academic program. I am pleased to tell you that VMI has passed several re-accreditation tests with flying colors. VMI successfully completed the Compliance Certification and On-Site Visit portions of our regional accrediting agency: the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (known as SACS). As part of this 10-year Self-Study process, we have implemented a new core curriculum that meets SACS' Quality Enhancement Plan. Final reaccreditation will be announced formally this summer. We have also won renewal of the 6-year ABET accreditation for our engineering programs, and our new VMI Computer Science Program has won similar accreditation. As important as these achievements may be, we are especially proud of the accomplishments of our faculty and cadets. Col. James J. Hentz, professor and head of the Department of International Studies and Political Science, has been awarded one of twelve State Outstanding Faculty Awards presented this year. The award is the Commonwealth's highest honor for faculty who demonstrate superior accomplishment in teaching, research, and public service. This is VMI's fourth Outstanding Faculty Award winner in the last five years. Cadet Will Flathers '08, an EE and Computer Engineering major, has won the Institute's first Goldwater Scholarship, the nation's premier undergraduate scholarship in mathematics, science, and engineering. Cadets Christopher Fields and Jason LaCerda were finalists for the Rhodes Scholarship in 2007, and Cadet John Terminato '07 is a national finalist for the Marshall Scholarship. These honors are testimony to the strength and quality of our academic program. In addition, Cadet Jason LaCerda was selected as the Number One Ranked Army ROTC cadet in the nation. This is the second consecutive year that a VMI cadet has achieved this ranking among 3400 cadets nation wide.
In February, we had the pleasure of dedicating the annex of VMI's Nichols Engineering Building in honor of former VMI Dean Major General James M. Morgan, Jr. '45. As all of you know, General Morgan has served VMI since 1946 as a professor of civil engineering, head of the department, and dean of the faculty. He is also a living encyclopedia of VMI history and information about alumni and friends of the Institute.
In our military programs, much progress is being made. The percentage of cadets taking commissions in their 1st Class Year has risen from 34 percent in 2002 to 50 percent today. This is especially significant at this time as the nation is at war. Other developments include the arrival of our new Commandant, retired U.S. Army Colonel Thomas H. Trumps '79. Col. Trumps replaces Col. Eric Hutchings, who served for seven years in that post and, thereby, became the longest-serving commandant since Scott Shipp's 27-year tenure in the position. We have added 100 acres to McKethan Park and now have 300 acres on which to conduct military exercises and maneuvers. Closer to the "hill," Kilbourne Hall and adjacent buildings are being transformed into the finest ROTC building in America in support of "Vision 2039's" commitment to increase the percentage of commissioning in the Corps.
The story (here) of cadet service to the nation is impressive. On the average, each year we have about 100 cadets in the Corps who are enrolled in the National Guard or in the Reserves (of all services). Since 9/11, 47 cadets have been mobilized or deployed to Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, or hurricane duty. It is our duty to imbue in our cadets a "sense of service" - this has been one of my deepest purposes as Superintendent - and I am proud to say that the cadets are responding magnificently.
In Athletics, I believe we are entering a decade of excellence. We have brought in many new intense and talented young coaches, and their work is showing results. In football, Jim Reid, a former head coach at two other universities, has brought a wonderful attitude of embracing the VMI system and process. He will turn our program in due time. Our basketball team surged at season's end to barely lose in the Championship final game to a strong Winthrop team. Baseball achieved the first national ranking in its history as Collegiate Baseball ranked the Keydets 30th in the country in a March 12 poll and the team has a 29-13 record with 12 games to play. The men's swimming team won Conference Championships in 2006 and 2007. We are especially proud of the new baseball stadium - the Gray-Minor Stadium and Paulette Hall - named in honor of Senator Elmon Gray '46, G. Gilmer Minor, III '63, and William A. Paulette '69. This facility is one of the finest college baseball parks on the east coast. Earlier in the year, we also dedicated Foster Stadium, named in honor of P. Wesley Foster, Jr. '56, and its enhancements will directly assist winning objectives.
One of the major changes that has taken place in the athletic program at VMI is the rapid growth in club sports. They have grown from 6 to 14, and from 95 cadets participating to 294 currently. Most popular are rugby, ice-hockey, soccer, and boxing.
As you look around the Post, you will see much construction. In fact, we have $185 million in construction underway today. Sixty-three percent of this comes from the state and 37 percent comes from private sources. By the start of school next year, every academic building and the Mess Hall will have been fully modernized, with the exception of the new science building. Significant "on-going" projects include the third barracks, the new leadership and ethics center (behind Smith Hall), the ROTC building complex, and modernization of Mallory Hall. I encourage you to look at these construction sites and especially the completed new football and baseball stadiums and Crozier Hall. Our legislative work will "next turn" to the completion of North Post with multi-purpose playing fields, movement of the rifle range to McKethan Park, expansion of obstacle and Rat Challenge courses and other leadership requirements. This $25 million project will complete what I call "Leadership Valley" and reinforce the theory of the Leadership -Ethics Center and the experience in the barracks and ROTC program.
As I said at the start of my talk this evening, change is a constant at VMI. But some things do not change and will not change: the Spirit of VMI, the guiding strength of its traditions, its devotion to honor and service, its focus on producing educated and honorable leaders, and its focus on producing "citizen soldiers" of the highest caliber.
I hope you see that as you tour the Institute and talk to cadets, faculty, and coaches.
Thank you for the constancy of your support. I hope you will have a memorable reunion...God Bless the Class of 1957!