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‘We’ve Jumped in that Fire, … Ignored our Burns’

Valedictorian, Joint Chiefs Chair Tell 317 Graduates They’re Ready to Face the Future


LEXINGTON, Va., May 16, 2014 - Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, touched on the camaraderie and character of Virginia Military Institute as he addressed the Class of 2014 in commencement exercises in Cameron Hall today.

“All of you will be challenged, some of you will probably lose your shoes, but you’ll always have VMI. You’ll have each other, and you’ll have your moral compass,” he told the 317 graduates. With this remark, Dempsey subtly highlighted VMI’s rich history, evoking the rich imagery of VMI cadets losing their shoes in the mud on the battlefield at New Market in 1864.

He reminded the graduates of their obligation to follow their moral compass and uphold the values instilled at VMI - patriotism, discipline, courage, integrity, resilience, and trust.

“You’re well armed for the future, come what may,” he assured the graduates, stressing the need for their leadership and service in today’s world.

Also speaking was valedictorian Cameron Armstrong, a physics and mathematics double major from Woodstock, Ga. Armstrong inspired his fellow cadets with a simple statement: “Nobody ever asked a lieutenant to do just one thing,” advice he heard a professor sarcastically tell a cadet who was complaining about the workload at VMI.

Armstrong took this statement to heart, applying it to his life at VMI. He told his fellow graduates that it is the challenges at VMI that make the experience so valuable.

“We’ve lived it. We’ve jumped in that fire, we’ve ignored our burns and powered through it. And by the end of it, we truly know that we’re capable of handling that stress. And you can’t really overvalue that confidence,” he said.

Regardless of what paths the cadets of the Class of 2014 choose to pursue from here, Armstrong said VMI has equipped each one of them with the skills they need to handle anything that comes their way, recognizing the intangible value of the VMI experience.

“I honestly think it’s very much a good thing that nobody ever asked a cadet to do just one thing,” he told his classmates. “Because nobody ever asked a leader to do just one thing either.”

VMI superintendent Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62 gave the introductory remarks at the ceremony, reminding this year’s class of the high expectations they will face as VMI graduates

He praised VMI as “a forward-looking institution dedicated to producing intelligent and useful citizens.”

“But it is also shaped in history and steeped in history,” he added. “We march in the future but we’re ever mindful of our rich legacy and our past.”

Peay also presented the honors and awards. The First Jackson-Hope Medal for highest attainment in scholarship, accompanied by The Commander Harry Millard Mason Academic Proficiency Award was presented to Jonathan Reardon who completed his VMI career with a cumulative grade point average of 4.0. He is graduating with Institute honors, attaining a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, with a concentration in aerospace engineering and a minor in mathematics.

Cabell Willis received the Second Jackson-Hope Medal for second highest attainment in scholarship accompanied by the Colonel Sterling Murray Heflin 1916 Academic Proficiency Award. Willis is a distinguished graduate with Institute honors, earning a cumulative GPA of 3.979. He is receiving a bachelor of arts degree in history with minors in writing, French, and philosophy.

Lastly, the Society of the Cincinnati Medal, accompanied by the Richard J. Marshall and Sumter L. Lowry Awards, we presented to Weston Stuart Hitchcock, who graduates with distinction, attaining a bachelor of arts degree in international studies. The medal is presented to a graduate who has displayed efficiency of service and excellence of character.

The Class of 2014 matriculated in August 2010 with 501 members and graduated today with 291, 146 of which will be commissioned in the armed forces by the end of the summer. Twenty-six cadets from other classes joined the class of 2014 today, resulting in the 317 total graduates. This graduation has a special distinction as well, falling immediately after the 150th anniversary of the Battle of New Market.

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--Annie Howard