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Welcome Governor Youngkin! This is the Message We Would Like to Hear

Joe Elie '88

The Spirit of VMI PAC welcomes Governor Glenn Youngkin to the Institute to deliver the commencement address on Tuesday, 16 May. We are glad he will send off the class of 2023 and, hopefully, bury the dead cow that is DEI. We also welcome four new members of the Board of Visitors as they begin their tenure as stewards of the Institute. Both the governor and the new BOV members would do well to recognize VMI’s rich history and contributions to the Commonwealth and the nation in light of the positive changes that are afoot.

Founded in 1839 by John Thomas Lewis Preston, ably led for the first 50 years by Francis Henney Smith, and sustained by the most supportive alumni in the country, VMI has produced 7 Medal of Honor awardees, 13 Rhodes Scholars, and almost 300 flag officers. In one alumnus alone, George Catlett Marshall, you have “the Organizer of Victory” - the Army Chief of Staff during World War 2, a Secretary of State, a Secretary of Defense, and a winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Many other leaders in civilian and military life hail from VMI.

The castellated, gothic inspired barracks is the lively place where relationships between Brother Rats and fellow cadets are forged and leadership is learned. VMI uses the analogy of the three legged stool - academics, athletics, and military - and ideally a cadet will excel at all three. It is within this arduous, merit-based system that VMI succeeds by granting responsibilities and privileges among cadets in the conduct of the Rat Line, the Class system, and the Regimental system. This model entails overcoming adversity and provides training that mirrors the real world. A 24/7 military lifestyle certainly is not your ordinary college experience, but the interpersonal skills you acquire prepare you for both the boardroom and the battlefield.

The Spirit of VMI PAC proposes a return to normalcy at the Institute. The past can be contextualized, but not canceled or concealed in a closet. Throughout history, change is a constant; and, until recently, you have been able to say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” But the Institute was unjustifiably condemned by the former governor, and we would like to right that wrong. We will continue to push for the restoration of VMI’s history, customs, and traditions - in their appropriate context, when necessary - while ensuring equality of opportunity.

We are also advocating for the governor to eliminate DEI from all public colleges and universities in Virginia. One of his first official acts was the issuance of Executive Order Number 1, which removed DEI from public school instruction in the K-12 grades. The natural move now is to do the same for Virginia’s public colleges and universities. Other states are fighting back successfully against the attempt to indoctrinate rather than educate American students. Other colleges have already done this on their own.

If everything is change, nothing is permanent, and you lose the essence of the thing you’re trying to save. The late historian David McCullough was fond of the expression “We cannot know where we are going until we know where we have been.” VMI cannot continue to complete its historic mission of producing citizen-soldiers and educating honorable men and women hampered by an identity crisis mandated by virtue signalers. Not all change is for the better.

The Institute has been here before. In 1868, a hostile state legislature convened in Richmond, and a committee ordered Superintendent Smith to demonstrate why VMI “should not be obliterated.” Smith’s response was VMI graduates had the technical expertise to help revitalize and rebuild Virginia and her economy. So the long knives have been out for VMI for quite some time, its critics considering the Institute part of a chivalrous bygone era, an anachronism. You might say what has been happening here since is Reconstruction 2.0. To continue trying to erase history by removing monuments, desecrating graves, and canceling heroes is to continue the slide down the slippery slope of societal decline.

We can remove all doubt about whether VMI needed to be reformed in the first place - a racist institution could not have produced Jonathan Daniels, who gave his life for the cause of freedom and civil rights. Daniels understood VMI was good. His sense of honor and courage were his own, but VMI honed his character.

The Spirit of VMI is palpable on post. It hangs in the atmosphere like the early morning August fog over the parade ground - the same ground where then Major Thomas J. Jackson relentlessly drilled his cadet charges in artillery and tolerated their pranks as they maneuvered the same four cannon - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You cannot erase Jackson if you were to cut that hill down to the level of Woods Creek. His mark on history is as indelible as his character.

VMI was forced to renounce the memory of the New Market cadets. The argument is you cannot honor those cadets because they fought for slavery. The reality is they found themselves in the tragic maelstrom that was the Civil War and fought for one another in pitched battle, for their hearths and homes against an invading army, and for their native states in what they viewed as the second American revolution. Their exemplary example cannot be relegated to history’s dustbin simply because they wore the uniform of the losing side. New Market remains the seminal moment in the history of VMI. After a mere 25 years in existence, the battle became VMI’s proof of concept and a perennial touchstone; integral to what the Institute’s mentally and physically grueling regimen seeks to imbue in its graduates to this present day. If Esprit de Corps can be ascribed to a military unit that forged a sterling reputation under fire, then the New Market cadets are inextricably intertwined as the embodiment of the The Spirit of VMI, which will never be extinguished.

Founded in 2021, the Spirit of VMI PAC is a registered Virginia Political Action Committee whose purpose is to restore VMI’s reputation as an elite leadership institution.

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