Lori Parrent
Secretary to Gen. Peay

P: (540) 464-7311
F: (540) 464-7660
E: parrentlr@vmi.edu

201 Smith Hall
Virginia Military Institute
Lexington, VA 24450

Remarks at Institute Society Dinner 

11 November 2010 

Ladies and gentlemen of the Institute Society, faculty and staff, and representatives of the Corps of Cadets ----

It was said earlier, but bears repeating: this festive annual event is our way of expressing to you our sincere appreciation on behalf of the Corps of Cadets, the faculty, and the staff for all that you have done for the Institute, and to recognize and celebrate the crucial role of the Institute Society in the life of VMI.

In these days of considerable state revenue reductions and pinched budgets, the assistance that comes from all alumni, and especially from members of the Institute Society, makes the difference between “just getting by” and advancing with energy and determination.  Your record of giving and support is testimony to the fact that…“just getting by”… is not acceptable to the VMI community.  It is foreign to “the Spirit of VMI.”

This evening we also gather to renew old friendships, to renew our ties to the Institute, and to enjoy the company of a very special group of individuals.  In this sense, the Institute Society is a kind of reunion, not of two or three classes alone but of classes from across the years and across the generations.  Look around you tonight… You will see the living heritage of the Institute: men and women who have carried the flame… the VMI Spirit… down life’s long journey… and those who are just beginning the journey.  Young and old, we are as one: men and women devoted to the Institute.

Today is Founders Day – VMI’s 171st anniversary – and as such the day has very special meaning to everyone in this hall.  It is a time when we remember and honor our Founders, and it is a day when we rededicate ourselves and the Institute to the high ideals and guiding principles of the men who conceived this college, gave it life, guided it through the dark days of war, and rebuilt it from the ashes.  What exemplary and memorable lives they lived!  What a magnificent story of service, inspiration, dedication, and courage.

I am happy to report to you that this bold experiment of the Founders continues to flourish and to grow from strength to strength.  For example, since the last gathering of the Institute Society, we have enrolled the largest new class ever to matriculate at the Institute… 501 New Cadets.  Coinciding with the growth of the Corps, we have completed construction on Third Barracks and a new Lejeune Hall and have fully modernized OLD and NEW Barracks, completing a four year, $70 million barracks project.  And at the present time, work is being conducted on an exciting transformational $20 million North Post project that will add substantially to our leadership, sports, and training facilities. Our Class and Regimental systems are strong with lowest indiscipline in a decade.  Our Academic reputation continues to expand by every report, and when the Class of 2011 graduates next May 16th, more than 60% will have taken the commissioning oath the previous day.    

Thanks to the work of the VMI Foundation and the VMI Communications and Marketing Office -- we have a special video that we would like to show you at this time. 

The Institute’s current Leadership Team is privileged to be here to help navigate the Institute on its journey.  Exciting, yes!  It is also an exacting time not only for the Institute but for all of higher education across the Commonwealth, where all colleges and universities have seen a dramatic drop in state funding.  During my eight years as Superintendent, state support as a percentage of our annual operating budget has dropped from 36 percent to 14 percent with this next budget.  To continue our work, we have had to depend on other sources of funding, including increased tuition and fees.  While VMI’s tuition and fees (on balance) have increased…, compared with every other school in the state, ours have increased less.

Offsetting these increases…, I am pleased to say that approximately 80 percent of the Corps of Cadets receives some form of private financial aid. The unrestricted support that you gave allowed VMI this year to present $480,000 more in scholarship aid to deserving cadets.  And our merit scholarship program, which depends almost entirely on private money, brings to VMI young men and women of great academic and leadership potential.  Last year, it supported 84 cadets with more than $665,000.

These have been difficult financial times, but we should recognize that despite the challenges, over the last five years we have accomplished over $200 million in construction achieved thru private and state support.  These new and massively renovated facilities enable us to achieve our principal mission: to educate and prepare cadets to be responsible and productive citizens…and to serve the nation in time of deepest peril.

It takes a hardworking Team…our academic, military, athletic, and support professionals…to accomplish what I hope you have witnessed during your time on Post.  I am particularly proud of our financial and government relations people that have been able to “bridge” some extremely difficult waters during the current downturn in the economy.  Your support, whether in restricted or unrestricted funds, has been invaluable to the accomplishment of our “Vision 2039” objectives and has contributed to the winning of high marks from Forbes Magazine, US News and World Report, the Princeton Review, and others, placing the Institute among the very best colleges and universities in America.

Your generosity is evidenced by your contributions to:

  • Provide cadet financial assistance for need based aid and supplements for 3 and 4 year ROTC scholarship cadets,
  • Providing academic support for faculty development, training, and enhanced technology,
  • Supporting the Jackson Hope Fund that ensures marked improvement and excellence in VMI’s academic enterprise,
  • Reinforcing the Center for Leadership and Ethics programs and particularly the VMI Inaugural Leadership Conference (last month) entitled, “Answering the Nation’s Call for Leaders of Character”…,
  • Private support for student services…support to the band, funding cadet organizations and clubs,
  • Adding to state supported construction for the Military Leadership Field Training Ground project on our North Post…and for funding debt service for the renovation of JM Hall,
  • And, thru the development board, ensuring aid to enhance the quality of our intercollegiate athletics.

The record of giving and support by alumni of the Institute is impressive, by any measure.  In many ways, thanks to your support, the Institute has never been stronger or better able to accomplish its mission…thru-out these recessional years.

But, it is my estimation that we (still) have a very tough two-year period ahead of us… and this year will be one of our most challenging:

 First, the Federal Stimulus is ending.  $1.9 million of support goes away.

Second, there will be continuing cuts in state funding…as much as $2 million to the operating budget of VMI. 

Third, “Although improving market conditions and sound investment strategies have restored tens of millions of dollars of value to the endowments that support VMI…, the support that “they” will generate will not match what they provided in the past.”

Nevertheless, I am confident in our plans; we are conservative in our processes, and guardedly optimistic about the future…we could not have “navigated” through this eight year period without you.  Your continued support gives us confidence to face a challenging future.  Through it all, I remain immensely proud of the accomplishments of our Corps of Cadets, Staff and Faculty, and our alumni…and I’m very, very upbeat and passionate about the future of the Institute.

VMI is a national treasure, and to great measure because of you.  I thank all of you, therefore, for your generous support of VMI, and for your decision to become and remain a partner in the on-going effort to secure VMI the extraordinary place it has in American higher education.

Thank you for attending the events at the Institute today.  Please come back with regularity.

God bless our country and The Virginia Military Institute.