Remarks at Founders Day Convocation
11 November 2008
Distinguished guests, faculty and staff, and ladies and gentlemen of the Corps of Cadets – welcome to this morning’s convocation marking the 169th anniversary of the founding of the Virginia Military Institute. Mr. Outland and Mr. Minor, in a few moments the VMI Foundation will present you with their highest award, the Distinguished Service Award. On behalf of the entire Institute community and the Board of Visitors, I express our warmest thanks to each of you for your devotion to VMI and congratulate you on the high honor you are about to receive.
The challenges facing our nation this morning are well-known to all of you. We are engaged on many fronts: at war in Iraq and Afghanistan; embroiled with the internal security challenges of Pakistan…the need to face and act on Iranian threats…an unsettled North Korea; a China exploding as an economic power…drugs, nuclear proliferation, terror, and border control issues…and a financial crisis with difficult economic times the likes of which, we have not experienced in years. I know that we will emerge from these times strong and correct…because our great nation has proven itself to be remarkably resilient over more than 230 years. Yet, that confidence does not lessen the difficulty that we Americans feel at this moment.
The Institute has been around long enough to have lived through and weathered many crises in our nation’s history. Whether it was the difficult beginnings of this great school, as it transitioned from an arsenal to an Institute, or the trials of the Civil War, the aftermath and rebuilding, or the financial crises that racked the nation after the war and at the end of General Smith’s long tenure as Superintendent…, to the more “recent difficulties” faced by our World War II and Korean War classes, who departed in great numbers, yet returned to VMI to finish their education…with similar scenes, albeit in smaller numbers, continuing today. Still…yet…the Institute endured and VMI graduates endured and succeeded.
We have much at VMI to be concerned about today. True. The revenues in the State of Virginia have been inordinately low, resulting in major budget cuts at least for the next two or three years that will certainly impact operations and our pace of growth. It will require diligence, smartness, and wisdom in all our actions…But we have much here at the Institute that should give us confidence and assurance that we are laying the base for a strong future. In the first place, and uppermost, you cadets are laying your foundation for your future by being engaged in an outstanding academic program. You are acquiring and honing the tools that will carry you far when you graduate. When the time comes, you will be prepared…and you will excel.
We are also laying the foundation for a greater and stronger VMI. To the utmost of our ability and resources, good things are being created in every corner of the Institute. The most obvious are the many physical renovations to ageing buildings and other facilities. Not so obvious…but more important…are major modifications in the academic, military, and athletic programs, and the cultural environment.
The Institute continues to stand on the bedrock of personal honor as described in VMI’s historic Honor Code…and the Corps leadership, demanding an environment of respect and high standards and being correctly “on parade” 24/7, is most encouraging.
As I mentioned last evening at the Institute Society dinner, academically, we continue to receive impressive ratings by U.S. News and World Report, the Princeton Review, and Forbes. Fifty (50%) of this RAT Class are majoring in Math, Science, and Engineering…a Vision 2039 objective. Admissions are up for the 5th straight year. We have an outstanding and engaged faculty. In 5 years, military commissioning has increased from 34% to 53% at graduation…in time of war. The Corps is on a “glide path” to grow to 1500 cadets well before 2014 with 3rd Barracks occupancy commencing upon return from Christmas furlough. The VMI Center for Ethics and Leadership will be completed shortly adding incredible capability to the Institute…and we just reoccupied a totally modernized Kilbourne Hall – the finest ROTC facility in the nation. The direction of our athletic program is positive with many new athletic facilities, young talented coaches, impressive recruiting, and student athletes that win the VMI way…and a Corps, our Teams, and our alumni continuing to be renowned for their sportsmanship. I truly believe we are approaching a decade of winning.
We are building for the future. I am mindful of the present…and remain undeterred in our drive towards Vision 2039. Now is not the time for complacency or retrenchment…nor to reduce our drive, energy, or innovation. Our strength in these times -- as cadets, as staff and faculty, as alumni, as members of the VMI community -- is our determination and steadfastness to overcome adversity…resolute in our actions…and confident that we are as a “team” marching with great purpose into the future. That is the strength of VMI. Indeed, that is the “Spirit of VMI.”