VMI December Graduation 2019

Please silence all electronic devices.
The ceremony will start in five minutes Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the
procession of graduates and the entrance of the stage party and remain
standing for the national anthem. Good morning. Ladies and gentlemen, will
you please join me for the invocation. Lord, today is the day that the dream
finally comes true. Matriculation Day, in some ways, seems so long ago, yet in some
ways seems not long ago at all. On Matriculation Day, none of these cadets
realized the adversity that they would face, the blood, sweat, and tears that they
would shed, or the intensity of the obstacles they would overcome, but
neither did they realize the depth of satisfaction they would receive from
their efforts, nor the pride that they would feel from pushing themselves
beyond their limits, nor did they realize the power and the loyalty of
their relationships they would develop and, lastly, on Matriculation Day, they had
little understanding of the magnitude of the word honor. Today they stand tall,
accomplished, full of pride, gratitude, and joy. Their families appropriately beam
with delight and pleasure. The professors look on with approval and satisfaction.
Today marks the greatest achievement of their young lives. For that, we offer up
our heartfelt thanks, but today also marks the day they launch out into a
world filled with tension and division and complexity and uncertainty. Lord,
raise up these 26 graduates to make a difference. Equip them to stand for what
is right and true and noble. Fill them with wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.
May they never grow weary in doing good. May they lead with conviction and
integrity and confidence. May those around them seek to emulate their
character, but above all, give them unwavering faith, faith in themselves, but
most importantly, faith in you. We ask this all on your Holy Name. Amen. Please be seated. Good morning. Members of the VMI Board
of Visitors, the academic board, staff and faculty, members of the Corps of Cadets,
parents, grandparents, friends, and graduating cadets, welcome. This is a
special day in the life of our graduating cadets and their families, and
we are pleased to host you for this culminating event and to celebrate their
achievement. Joining me on the stage this morning are the president of the VMI
Board of Visitors and our graduation speaker, Mr. John William Boland, VMI
Class of 1973; VMI’s deputy superintendent for academics and dean of
the faculty, Brigadier General Robert Moreschi; VMI’s deputy superintendent
for finance, administration, and support, Brigadier General Dallas Clark,
VMI Class of 1999; VMI’s registrar, Colonel Janet Battaglia; the Institute and
chaplain to the Corps of Cadets Colonel Robert Phillips, VMI class of 1987;
and associate chaplain Major John Casper, VMI Class of 2004. While we normally
think of VMI graduations taking place in Cameron Hall located to our
south on Lexington’s Main Street, celebrating graduation here in Jackson
Memorial Hall is also very special. the The famous architect Bertram Goodhue
designed this hall along with numerous famous buildings across the country,
including the National Academy of Sciences Building in Washington, D.C. The
first gathering here in JM Hall was during Thanksgiving in 1916, just over a
hundred years ago. The classic Gothic architecture and many of the buildings
surrounding you is one of VMI’s trademarks that you perhaps will
remember as you reminisce about your time at the Institute. Shortly after this
hall was complete, the world was at war, and our country prepared for uncertain times. ROTC was first established, and VMI was one of the
founding members. Since then, generations of cadets have sat on these hard benches
while enduring many challenges throughout their cadetship, mental
physical, and emotional to prepare them for life as a citizen-soldier and en
route to earning the coveted VMI diploma. You are now part of that lineage of
cadets who have conquered the course and shortly will be awarded your degree and
join our proud alumni body. We should acknowledge your parents, family members,
classmates, and close friends, and I know that each graduating cadet appreciates
the encouragement he or she has received from them, as well as from instructors
and coaches, military officers of the Institute and host families downtown.
Every cadetship has its highs and lows, but it certainly would have been
considerably more difficult without their support, so let’s give a warm
applause and thanks to those special people in our lives. As you leave the Institute to begin the
next phase of your life, please remember what you have learned: honor, teamwork, discipline, resilience, and certainly loyal friendship of classmates
and others, and stay in touch with your brother rats and with the Institute, and
return as often as you can and know you’re always welcome here. I congratulate you
this morning, and I’m confident that you have formed a firm foundation to build
your lives upon and all of us at the Institute wish you the very, very best in
the years ahead. It now gives me great pleasure to
introduce our guest and graduating speaker, Mr. John William Boland, VMI Class of 1973, and president of the VMI Board of Visitors. Mr. Boland arrived
at VMI from Jackson, Mississippi, in 1969. One of the first sights he probably saw
at VMI was the final stage of construction of our alumni building,
Moody Hall, near Limits Gates, and maybe on that day he envisioned what it would
be like to be an alumnus of VMI. He has been a great leader and friend of the
Institute ever since. During his cadetship he majored in
history, participated and lettered on the football and indoor track teams, was part
of the scuba and dance club, and occupied a spot on the Dean’s List, and in 1973,
Mr. Boland’s 1st Class year, he was on the Coordinating Committee that
planned the annual VMI symposium at that time, and that committee selected design
and disorder, community planning and our future as their theme. The symposium
focused on requirements of future civic leadership and the development of
communities from various viewpoints including environmental, economic, and
urban planning, and I think we may say that the theme of this conference was a
premonition of Mr. Boland’s future professional career and community
involvement. Following graduation, he taught U.S. government and U.S. history at
Harrisonburg High School, and coached football, wrestling, and
baseball, and smartly, he married his VMI sweetheart, the former Miss
Judith B. Stovall of Harrisonburg, a graduate of Mary Baldwin College, and also
later she earned a master’s in education from the University of Virginia. Proudly,
they had three children and four grandchildren. He attended law school and
received his juris doctor in 1984 from the University of Richmond and joined
the prestigious law firm McGuire Woods and in 1992 he became a partner, served
as chairman of the business and securities litigation department, and on
the firm’s important and respected strategic planning and advisory
committees, retiring in 2018. He has contributed to his community in many
ways. This included work with the nonprofit Rebuilding Richmond Together,
which he co-founded, a group that helps rehabilitate housing for the elderly and
low-income families. He served on the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society’s
board of directors for many years and its president in 2002-2003, a group that
provides legal services and helps defends the rights of those less
fortunate. In 2013, Mr. Boland was appointed to the VMI Board of Visitors, and in the
summer of 2015, he was elected as vice president of the board. Two years later,
he was elected its president and shortly he will become one of the
longest-serving board presidents in VMI’s history and the longest in
recent times. Mr. Boland has loyally served his community, state, and alma mater. His
sterling leadership and wisdom has been exhibited with frequency, and we’re so
very grateful for his outstanding service to the Institute.
I have personally enjoyed his counsel, his steadiness and common sense under
pressure, his wisdom and loyalty. Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the
Virginia Military Institute Board of Visitors a champion of all things
VMI, a selfless servant, a close, valued friend: Mr. John William Boland, VMI Class of 1973. I almost started looking around
wondering who he was talking about. It’s very nice. Thank you, General Peay. Members of
the academic board, faculty, staff, cadets, family, friends, and especially graduates,
congratulations to you and your family. It’s been a great joint effort to get
you here today, and I especially want to recognize your parents and grandparents
who have done so much to make today happen, so if the parents and
grandparents would please stand up for a round of applause. Thank you. Almost 47 years ago, I graduated from VMI.
I had no connection with the school before I came here, so let me tell you
how I got here. When I was a senior in high school, I was recruited to play
football by a few schools, including the University of Mississippi, Ole Miss,
which was in my home state. One weekend Ole Miss invited me to stand on the
sidelines for their game at Mississippi Memorial Stadium versus the University of
Kentucky. This was especially an honor to me since my Dad had played football at
Kentucky, so there I was, standing on the sidelines watching the game along with
57,000 other people in my hometown. Ole Miss had a quarterback at the time named
Archie Manning. You may be more familiar with his two sons, Peyton and Eli, who
like their Dad, were very successful college and pro quarterbacks. Like Eli
and Peyton, Archie was a great passer. At some point in the second quarter, Manning
took the snap, looked deep for his receiver, who covered. He rolled into the Ole Miss
sideline, threw a flare pass to his halfback, halfback reaches out for it,
ball goes flying through the halfback’s hands, hits the ground, pops up, and hits
me. It hit me where my grandchildren would
call a private part. It was a direct hit. It knocked me down. I was in pain. The Ole
Miss trainers had to come to my rescue. They moved the offensive line off of
their bench, stretched me out, and began to provide some relief. Some of you
may know what I’m talking about—all in front of 57,000 people. Needless to say,
that was the last I heard from Ole Miss. Fortunately, VMI was not aware of this
embarrassing incident and offered me a chance to play here, which I gladly
accepted. This little story reminds me of one of my favorite Garth Brooks songs—
“Thank God for unanswered prayers.” I grew up in Mississippi with seven brothers
and sisters. I wanted to go to college. My parents had a lot of mouths to feed. They
couldn’t afford to send me, so playing for Ole Miss, I thought, was the answer to
my prayer, but the good Lord, as He often does, had another plan.
This particular unanswered prayer led me to Lexington, where I
received a great undergraduate education, developed leadership skills, and was
imbued with the moral compass that is our honor code, all in the crucible that
is VMI. This is also where I had the great good fortune to meet Judy Stovall,
my wife of 47 or 45 years— sorry, Judy. This is, as General Peay said, this is my
seventh year on the Board of Visitors and my third year as president. I’ve learned
so much about VMI during this time. First, your faculty. It’s wonderful, incredibly
dedicated, and smart. They’re committed to your success, and I have seen you
interact with them inside and outside the classroom, research, going to
conferences, helping communities locally and around the world. Second, your
administration is highly professional and exhibits the characteristics of true
leadership. They make every decision with VMI’s and your best interest at heart.
I have seen you, the Corps, from 1st Class privates to the regimental staff
to the honor court working effectively with administration to truly run the
school, and I can say this unequivocally— no other school in the nation puts such
responsibility on its students, and you have handled it very well. I would like
to single out one person who has had a great positive experience on you and
many others of us here today and that is General J.H. Binford Peay III, our
superintendent. Perhaps in the minds of many and certainly in my mind, VMI’s
greatest superintendent. General Peay, thank you so much for all you do. You’re graduating today from one of the
top schools in the nation. A lot of alumni of my vintage have a hard time
understanding that, but it’s true. Poll after poll confirms this. If there were a
poll that measured the most difficult colleges in terms of academics,
physicality, time management, dealing with stress, and above all, holding honor as
its highest ideal, we would be first for sure, and you, my fellow graduates, are
graduating from the toughest school in the nation. You should be very, very proud.
There are many positive traits that you’ll carry with you over the next year
and the remainder of your years, and this is because of the life-changing education
and training you’ve received here. Though there are many of these positive
characteristics, I want to talk about two of them, and you’ve heard a lot about
this during your four years here, and I want to speak to leadership and honor.
First, leadership. You are leaders, and you’ll continue to be leaders in civil
and military societies, but let me talk about five key characteristics of
leadership that you have now and how you will use these during your careers, with
your family, and with your friends. First is commitment. Leaders are committed to
do the job and do it well. Nothing is worth doing unless you do it right.
You’ve been learning commitment since the day you matriculated. Commitment to
the values of the Institute: honor, integrity, civility, service before self.
These are the hallmarks of a citizen-soldier. You will carry this commitment
to your next venture, either in military or civilian life. Stay the
course. Stay the course when things get tough and might appear insurmountable to
others. You’ve demonstrated already your
commitment to these goals by being here today.
Second is hard work. With commitment comes hard work. There is simply no
substitute for that. Leaders stay the course. They don’t punch a time clock.
They put in the time, effort, and hard work to get it done. As you know, nothing
comes easy in barracks. Nothing comes easy at VMI. It takes hard work and
dedication. Our adversarial system takes you out of your comfort zone. It places
heavy constraints on your daily schedule that require you to prioritize and to
manage your time, and this is all by design, and you learn to handle that very
well. Physically, you’ve worked harder than students at any other school.
Academically, you’ve persevered to earn one of 14 demanding majors, and as some
of you know, there’s no grade inflation here. A third characteristic is expertise.
Leaders expect to be judged and judge others based on merit and merit alone.
Whatever your first assignment, just master it. Become the smartest person in
the room on that topic, no matter how serious or seemingly trivial it is. Just
nail it. This will become a most effective and useful tool for your
success, and whether you realize it or not, you’ve become experts at running
this school. I’ll say it again: no other, no other college places that sort of
responsibility for students’ learning and welfare as VMI. You’ve done this through
the cadre, through Corps leadership, sports leadership, the honor system, the OGA,
the GC, and many, many other ways. These three characteristics that I just talked
about need to be balanced and tempered with goodness, caring, and empathy,
something that all exceptional leaders demonstrate. Make these things part of
your DNA. Show kindness and understanding, especially to those people who are
working for you. You will be respected for this. It is a sign of true strength,
not weakness. I know you’re familiar with the saying, mission first and people always.
Well, this is true. Take care of the people who take care of
the mission, and you will have continued success. As you move forward, make it a
point to find a mentor and make it a point, even in your early careers, to be a
mentor to others. Find someone who will be a role model and serve as a role model to others, someone you can go to for advice
and guidance. These relationships will have a lasting impact, just like the
relationship that we’ve developed with our dykes here at VMI. Three great people
served as mentors to me during my legal career. First is Robert H. Patterson Jr.,
VMI Class of 1949C and grandfather to Buck Patterson, who’s graduating
today. He was a great leader of a great national law firm. His lasting legacy
still continues at my firm. Mr. Patterson taught me the critical importance of
loyalty—loyalty to family, loyalty to friends, loyalty to clients, and I know of
no other person who was more loyal to this school than VMI. I’m honored to have
here with me today two of my law partners who helped shape my career and
who continue to serve as mentors and role models for me, Mrs. Robert H.
Patterson Jr. and Mr. Richard Cullen. Anne-Marie Whittemore is the smartest
person in the best league with the best legal judgment that I know. Anne was my
direct mentor when I joined the law firm, and taught me that there is absolutely
no substitute for thorough preparation. Prepare for the big things and prepare
for the little things. It gives you a winning advantage. Richard is a former
Board of Visitors member, and he was chairman of our firm for 10 years. He
was instrumental in my appointment to the board, and I’m indebted to him for
that. Richard taught me the power of one simple word, and that word is yes. Yes, you
can do this. Yes, you can help someone. Yes, you can succeed. Yes, you can do this on
your own. Yes, more often than not, is the right answer.
Both Richard and Anne took the time to provide me with guidance and encouragement, for which I am deeply grateful. Finally, in terms of leadership, learn from mistakes. They can be one of
life’s greatest learning tools. Think of your own experience as you recall
more vividly, perhaps, and learn more about yourself and your surroundings
from your mistakes than from your achievements. All of us, all of you, have
had the opportunity to succeed and fail here. Does ten-six and thirty ring a
bell to anybody? It still does to me. Learn both from your successes and
your failures, and don’t be tempted to gloss over the mistakes. Don’t hide them.
Let them see the light of day. Shine a light on them. Own them. By doing this, you will
solve the problems, and you and others will continue to learn. To summarize, your
time at VMI has helped mold you into committed, hard-working, empathetic
leaders who stand on their own merit and who learn humbly from mistakes. For many
others, it takes decades of experiences to develop these skills, if they develop
them at all, so as you enter your next phase of life, enter it with confidence
that you have what it takes to succeed. Aside from leadership, the second
important characteristic that is now ingrained in your mind and soul is honor.
It’s one of the very first things that was spoken about after your
matriculation. You’ve lived it for over four years, and it’ll be with with
you for the rest of your life. It’s a badge that you should proudly display.
You’ve learned through your families and through VMI not to lie, cheat, steal, or
tolerate those who do. This is a moral code, and it will serve you well. Continue
to follow it. In your careers and in your family life, nothing is more important
than your word, and along with that, your words. Choose them carefully. Words have
meaning. They can hurt. They can support. They can demonstrate expertise. They can
convey love, so choose your words carefully. You have learned to speak the
truth when it is difficult. You’ve learned to speak the truth
when it may hurt you, or it may hurt others. You’ve learned to speak the truth
on big things and small matters. Your credibility on all things, big and small,
will serve you well, and it is on this foundation that you will have highly
successful and rewarding professional and personal life.
So my graduates, as you leave the Institute today to begin your new life,
know that you have what it takes to be successful. You are citizen-soldiers. You
have the learning, the leadership skills, and the moral code to bring great honor
to yourself, your family, this school, the Commonwealth, and our great nation. God
bless us all, and God bless VMI. Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Boland, for those
thoughtful and inspiring remarks. I’m sure they will last with these cadets
for a long time. Will the candidates for graduation please rise? The academic
board has presented to the Board of Visitors all candidates for the bachelor
of science degree and all candidates for the bachelor of arts degree, all of whom
have been certified to have completed the requirements for graduation from the
Virginia Military Institute. By the authority of law vested in the Board
of Visitors and faculty, I confer upon each of you a diploma in testimony of
your being a graduate of the Virginia Military Institute and award you the
bachelor’s degree appropriate to your major field of study. Please be seated
and come forward as your name is called. General Moreschi, will you please read
the names of the graduates? The bachelor of science degree in
applied mathematics: David Curtis Carter, ensign, United States Navy. Samuel Patrick Norris The bachelor of science degree in biology: Henry Jacob Boulter, second lieutenant, United States Army. James Elliott Hendricks III, second lieutenant, United States Army. Sadie J. Sandifer The bachelor of science degree in civil
engineering: Robert Hobson Patterson IV Jarrod Austin Richmond John Spencer Schoeneweis,
second lieutenant, United States Army. The bachelor of science degree in
computer science: Joshua Thomas Haeseker The bachelor of science degree in
electrical and computer engineering: Buka John Anwah III Jordan Trent Costley The bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering: Spencer Lawrence Balsan, minor in mathematics. The bachelor of science degree in physics: Connor A. Keane John Matthews Pitman IV, second
lieutenant, United States Army. The bachelor of arts degree in biology: Corey
Scott Johnstone, minor in exercise science. Andrew Paul Mortensen, second lieutenant,
United States Air Force. Christian Daniel Purdy Gavin Madison Stanley The bachelor of arts degree in economics
and business: Bentley Gray Dudek John Joseph Neenan Joseph Lloyd Phillips,
second lieutenant, United States Army. Tyler Ryan Watts The bachelor of arts degree in history:
Jordon Michael Bennett, second lieutenant, United States Marine Corps. Zane Marshall Grzeszczak Joseph Brady Hughes, with distinction. The bachelor of arts degree in
international studies: James Patrick McKenna, minor in exercise science. Ladies and gentlemen, the 2019 December
graduates of the Virginia Military Institute. All graduates, their families, and guests
are invited to join us now for a reception in Moody Hall. These
proceedings are adjourned.

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