An Education for Leadership in the 21st Century
Even in a world of change, some things never change. Society will always need educated and honorable men and women. And men and women will always need to lead lives of meaning and usefulness to others.
Established in 1839, VMI has shaped leaders, and individuals whose daily lives reflect the integrity, fairness, and appreciation for the value of work that is instilled here. The sense of mission at VMI is at the foundation of the Institute’s tradition, teaching, and administration. It is alive in each cadet from the youngest rat to the First Captain. Their pursuits, and now your pursuits, marked by words such as Honor, Character, and Wisdom, may seem romantic, even archaic, but they are, in fact, timeless and never needed more than now.
For the individual who wants an undergraduate experience more complete and transformative than an ordinary college or university can provide, and more versatile in its applications than a military service academy affords - VMI offers a superb education. Its efficacy is well demonstrated by generations of VMI graduates. Among the alumni of VMI are: a Nobel Prize winner, eleven Rhodes Scholars, seven Medal of Honor recipients, a Pulitzer Prize winner, college presidents and generals and flag officers.
No other college in America is so attentive to and so proud of its product: citizen-soldiers prepared both for civilian leadership in their professions and for military leadership in times of national need. VMI graduates have made distinguished contributions both in the military and in fields as diverse as business, engineering, international affairs, medicine, and public policy, often at remarkably young ages.
VMI’s multi-faceted program is designed to instill in each cadet the lifelong values of integrity, devotion to duty, self-discipline, and self-reliance. Because cadets live and work in close association with fellow cadets, respect for the rights of others becomes their way of life and leads to a strong bond of loyalty.
Cadet Development Goals
Graduates of the Virginia Military Institute will:
- The responsibilities of the Citizen-Soldier and the application of a broad liberal education in the arts, sciences and engineering to those responsibilities.
- The ideals of the American Constitution and the responsibilities of service to the Nation and its defense.
- The values and ethical standards of commissioned service to the Nation.
- The ability to anticipate and respond effectively to the uncertainties of a complex and changing world.
- Intellectual curiosity, imagination, and creativity.
- The ability to recognize moral issues and apply ethical considerations in decision making.
- The ability to act rationally and decisively under pressure.
- Mastery of the basic military skills required for entry into commissioned service.
- A commitment to physical fitness and wellness, including the physical skills required for entry into commissioned service.
- The ability to understand and apply the art and science of leadership to inspire, motivate, and develop subordinates, accomplish organization goals, and lead in a complex and changing world.
In 1816 the Commonwealth of Virginia established an arsenal on the edge of Lexington to provide weapons to the state militia west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Eighteen years later several of Lexington’s leading citizens, including attorney John Thomas Lewis Preston, proposed that the arsenal be transformed into a military college so the cadets could pursue educational courses while protecting the stand of arms. The plan led to legislation establishing the Virginia Military Institute.
It was Preston, generally credited for conceiving the idea of VMI, and later one of the original members of the faculty, who gave the new institution its name: “Virginia—a State institution, neither sectional nor denominational. Military—its characteristic feature. Institute—something different from either college or university. The three elements thus indicated are the basis of a triangular pyramid, of which the sides will preserve their mutual relation to whatever height the structure may rise.” The first president of the Board of Visitors was Colonel Claudius Crozet, a graduate of Ecole Polytechnique and former faculty member at West Point, who was the state engineer of Virginia at the time of his election to the board.
On November 11, 1839, 23 young Virginians signed the matriculation book and formed the first Corps of Cadets. In a falling snow the first cadet sentry, John B. Strange, relieved the old arsenal guard. To this day cadets perform guard duty and serve the state as a military corps, just as the first Corps of Cadets did.
The great experiment in higher education as the nation’s first state sponsored military college was underway. Professor (later Major General) Francis H. Smith, a graduate of the United States Military Academy, was named Superintendent and presided over the affairs of the Institute for its first fifty years. During his tenure, the Corps increased in size, the curriculum broadened, and the faculty grew.
During the Civil War the cadets were called into active service several times, and on May 15, 1864, became the only student body in American collegiate history to fight in a pitched battle as an independent unit. The battle, at the small Shenandoah Valley town of New Market, claimed the lives of 10 cadets. Union forces shelled and burned the Institute one month later. The efforts of General Smith and dedicated members of the faculty allowed the Institute to reopen in the fall of 1865.
Early in VMI history, Colonel Preston declared that the Institute’s unique program would produce “fair specimens of citizen-soldiers,” and this observation has been substantiated by the service of VMI graduates in peace and war. Since the Institute was founded, VMI alumni have fought in every war involving the United States, starting with the Mexican War just four years after VMI graduated its first class. Seven alumni have received the nation’s highest military decoration, the Medal of Honor. Over 600 alumni have died in service during times of war.
Two of the Institute’s most illustrious alumni capture the essence of the VMI model of the Citizen-Soldier: George C. Marshall, VMI 1901, and Johnathan M. Daniels, VMI 1961. General of the Army George C. Marshall served as the Army Chief of Staff during World War II and was the architect of the Marshall Plan (The European Recovery Plan) following the war. In 1953 he received the Nobel Prize for Peace. Jonathan M. Daniels was the valedictorian of his VMI class. He attended Harvard after VMI and then entered Episcopal Divinity School. He put his studies on hold in 1965 answer the call of Dr. Martin Luther King to assist in the Civil Rights Movement in the deep south. Later that year he was murdered by a white supremacist while saving the life of another civil rights activist. Daniels was declared a martyr of the Episcopal Church for his sacrifice.
The devoted service of the fourteen superintendents who have followed General Smith has enabled the Institute to strengthen its position as a uniquely valuable source of honorable and dedicated citizen-soldiers for the Commonwealth and the nation. The current superintendent, Major General Cedric Wins, VMI 1985, brings to the Institute the valuable leadership skills and perspectives he developed during a 32-year military career.
From its early days as all male college, the 1,700 member Corps of Cadets of today is a diverse co-educational student body from over 45 states and several foreign countries. VMI is proud of its uniquely rigorous and constantly evolving system of education, and its earned reputation as one of America’s premier institutions of higher education. Our mission of producing leaders — educated men and women of unimpeachable character and absolute integrity — remains our clear focus today and for the future.