519 Matriculate in Cameron Hall

Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III '62, superintendent, and Col. William Wanovich '87, commandant of cadets, speak to the assembled crowd in Cameron Hall before new cadets take their place among members of their companies.

LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 18, 2018—For the Institute, Matriculation Day, Saturday, Aug. 18, was another step in the long evolution of similar days that preceded it in the years since the first class of cadets arrived in 1839. For the newest rat class, however, the day was a memorable first.

From the time the 519 new cadets entered Cameron Hall, they accumulated stacks of papers, balanced portfolios, and added their signatures to a seemingly endless mound of documents. The most important signature, however, came near the end of the trek around the venue.

That is when the rat adds his or her name to the revered Matriculation Book and officially becomes a part of VMI history.

“You look at how thick it is, how massive it is,” said Rives Worsham ’19, one of four cadets on Matriculation Book duty Saturday as he recalled his first official day on post. “That in itself is a testimony to what you are doing and the tradition that you are about to become part of.”

Signing that book is the last thing prospective cadets do before heading up the steps to get the uniforms that will become part of their daily lives for the next four years. It can be a long morning, full of nervous excitement and trepidation.

“It’s an emotional day,” said Tyler Topping ’19. “There are a lot of different emotions: nervousness, excitement, not knowing what to expect, hoping you can make it.”

Most of those enduring the process Saturday probably were enduring the same feelings, as well as the grind of winding their way around the floor of Cameron Hall. The whole process, to those not familiar with the layout, may seem chaotic, but there is a method to the madness.

“This is an important day,” said Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III ’62, VMI’s superintendent, who emphasized the introduction to discipline and organization for the rats. “We’ve tried hard to make this day work. This is the start of a four-year journey, [and] hopefully, this sets the standard for the journey.”

Of course, a big part of that journey begins with the signing of the Matriculation Book. This year 519 matriculants added their names, and, as usual, this class comes to VMI with some distinguishing characteristics.

Chief among those is the sheer numbers they bring. This is the biggest class ever to matriculate to VMI, and included are 87 women, the largest number to matriculate to date. The group includes 13 foreign students from five different countries, and 104 members of the matriculation class were recruited to participate in athletics. Forty percent of the new rats hail from other states.

The academic prowess of this group lives up to the VMI standard as well.

“The academic profile continues to be very strong,” said Col. Vernon Beitzel ’71, VMI’s director of admissions. “We saw an increase in the SATs, where, for the first time in a long time, we’ll be over a 1,200 average on the SAT.”

This year’s group boasts an average high-school grade point average of 3.70. Sixty-five percent of them plan on pursuing a degree in math, science or engineering.

At the same time, Beitzel noted that “a large percentage” of the group will be pursuing a commission to the military, in line with the goals outlined in Vision 2039. Many of those are coming to VMI with an ROTC scholarship.

“We’re fortunate there that the Department of Defense is still coming through,” said Beitzel. “That’s very positive.”

Every one of those 519 endure the same trials of their predecessors: meeting their cadre for the first time, running to barracks, and the upcoming Hell Week. And every one of them signed the big book sitting reverently on its podium in Cameron Hall.

It is a tradition that is lost on some, but its significance lives on with many cadets long after that first day on post.

“This school is based on tradition, and this is one of the most important traditions coming in,” said Ariana Ruffin ’21, who matriculated last year and was on hand to greet the newcomers Saturday. “It’s just an honor to be able to sign it.”

“Everybody who has ever been here has signed this book,” added Worsham. “My family has been coming here for a while, so all of their names are in it. I took a picture of my name today. A couple of guys have come up and taken pictures of their names, all of the alumni who are here with their kids. The book is just the start of it.”

“For me, it was like it was my first small contribution to the school,” Topping said. I wondered if this signature was actually going to mean something or if it was going to be just another name in a book.

“Seeing all of these rats signing the Matriculation Book, they are the legacy that we are going to leave behind,” Topping continued. “All of the contributions that we have made, we are going to pass on to them. Hopefully, it will carry on and they can uphold the tradition.”

-Chris Floyd


VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders