Cadet Chaplains and Faculty Honored During Baccalaureate Service

LEXINGTON, Va. June 12, 2024 — Several awards were presented to Virginia Military Institute cadet chaplains during a non-denominational Baccalaureate service in May, recognizing their service during the academic year.   

“Cadet chaplains are to be the most friendly and welcoming cadets in the Corps,” Col. John P. Casper '04, Institute chaplain, said. “They are well equipped to provide initial care in a crisis and are excellent at making referrals for additional support. They are also gifted in organizational skills and leadership in chaplain’s office initiatives.” The awards, presented by Col. John P. Casper '04, Institute chaplain, celebrated the cadets' exceptional leadership, organizational skills, and compassionate care.

Each May during graduation week at VMI, graduating cadets, family, and friends gather for the awards ceremony. This event, hosted by the Chaplain’s Office, celebrates the collective faith, fellowship, and service among 1st Class cadets.  

Graduating cadets who have demonstrated exceptional service, leadership, and character within their respective faith communities on post were awarded. Each cadet demonstrated an “above and beyond” approach to their leadership. 

This year was an anomaly, according to Casper. The four cadets recognized for the Cadet Chaplain Award were also awarded the Protestant Service Award.  

The VMI Protestant Service Award, which recognizes exceptional leadership, initiative, readiness to volunteer for ministry projects and tasks, care for fellow cadets, organizational skills, and a servant’s heart, was awarded to Jack Pendleton ’24, Abigail Soyars ’24, Allen Stewart ’24, and Gabbi Woodward ’24. 

Pendleton was described as an excellent cadet chaplain, who was a hard worker, patient, kind, and always ready to help.  

Soyars was incredibly empathetic and had a compassionate pastoral approach to crisis. 

Stewart was a hard worker who was there every time the chaplain’s office asked. He had a great attitude, quiet excellence as a leader, and wonderful sense of humor, Casper said.    

Woodward was exceptionally organized in her ministry efforts, according to Casper.  

“She did so much with ministry to female cadets ... a remarkably talented leader who will make an impact in ministry anywhere,” he said.  

The VMI Muslim Service Award was presented to Dr. Sabrina Laroussi. Laroussi serves as the advisor and representative for VMI’s Muslim cadets and is a professor of modern languages and serves in a several other leadership roles within the Institute.   

“She is an asset to our Muslim cadets, a compassionate leader, and a gifted professor,” Casper said. “Without her, our ministry efforts to reach our Muslim cadets would not be the same.”  

The awards, presented by Col. John P. Casper '04, Institute chaplain, celebrated the cadets' exceptional leadership, organizational skills, and compassionate care.The Catholic Service Award was presented by Father Maxwell Appiagyei to Paul Murray ’24 and John Paccassi ‘24. 

The ceremony also recognized Dean Tamara Futrell and Fiorela Giraldo Prado de Lewis from Washington & Lee University for their extraordinary service to VMI’s Jewish cadets. The Hillel House, where most Jewish cadets attend shabbats, and observances with other students, was without a rabbi and director of Jewish life for a large part of the year. The two, both of W&Ls Office of Inclusion and Engagement, were instrumental in partnering with the Chaplain’s Office to ensure our cadets were well cared for and ministered to.  

Casper said the number one function of the Chaplain’s office is to ensure the free exercise of religion.  

"It's important to recognize and it's important to value all the faith groups that are represented at VMI,” he said. “This gives us the opportunity to do that. There are faith groups with lower populations within the Corps, but that that certainly doesn't mean they're less valuable. By bringing some official recognition to them, it highlights their contribution to the Corps.” 

He said that what makes the Corps beautiful is the differences within it.  

“We really wanted to be able to showcase that and recognize the leadership within it because I think as that practice continues, the more people are likely to feel excited and free to express their faith or to engage in their faith in really meaningful ways,” he said.  

Laura Peters Shapiro
Communications & Marketing

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