A Statement from Gen. J.H. Binford Peay III '62, 4 June 2020
Members of the Corps of Cadets, Staff and Faculty, and VMI Alumni:
Like so many of you, I suspect your concerns and sleepless nights parallel my own. I have struggled with ways to address you, this tragedy and senseless death of George Floyd in a meaningful way that is not just another lofty statement and one of platitudes. Our VMI cadets, in particular, very much do not want, nor deserve that. The most significant contribution we can make for our country is to prepare all of our graduates for that mantle of leadership to affect appropriate change in our communities, eradicate racism, defend our nation, and lead the best institutions of business, medicine, the law, politics, military, education and many others, while most importantly, providing principled leadership to our families. As a unique institution of higher education in America with a mission unlike any others, we have the ability to build on the close relationships of Brother Rats, Class and Regimental systems, teammates, and on the work of our alumni. Our cadets graduate to become citizen-soldiers, who are expected to lead moral lives of character, honor, civility, and service.
Virginia Military Institute has a history of traditions…many continue today, while others have rightly been left behind. In 1968, the first African Americans joined the ranks of the Corps of Cadets and they have graduated to be superb leaders in all walks of life. Inscribed on their class ring are the words, tradition and change. VMI is an institution that strives to do what is right in the face of injustice. In 2003, after the admission of women to VMI, we recognized long before the nation that “civility” was a growing and concerned major deficiency in our Corps of Cadets and society. In my view we were ahead of the nation in addressing that challenge; we made major strides and yet we have much more to do. That is my job now, as before, to advance that work. I intend to do just that. If it is any help, over my fifty years in uniform…my views are that the best leaders are steady under pressure, quiet, reflective, thoughtful, and have courage to fix and act. The principles on which VMI stands: fairness; equity; honor; integrity; accountability; respect and high standards are so important to the advancement of good citizenry. We can advance these traits in society and correct inequalities.
In this pandemic crisis, your institution has been working feverishly to prepare for what we hope will be a safe reopening of our beloved Institute. There are enormous challenges, but I have stressed to our team that we have marvelous opportunities (also) to come together and improve aspects of our institution that we have been unable to change because of tradition, bias, and institutional friction. This current and challenging environment has placed on cadets and our staff and faculty opportunities to educate and improve leaders who will address the systemic and cultural racial divisions we face today and tomorrow. I am hopeful these opportunities will improve our cadets and impact favorably on VMI and our communities.
Each of us should take this opportunity for self-reflection of our own values, beliefs, and daily actions. Can we become more understanding and honest of the imperfect environment around us? As we continue to hold true to our commitment to producing citizen-soldiers expected to lead moral lives…the Institute must and will self-reflect and be open to growth and greater understanding of the inequalities and prejudices that still exist today. It is also time to move forward together in unity. The Virginia Military Institute is committed to these ends in a purposeful way.