Minks and Rats, Revisited
By Mason Grist Lexington is a town steeped in tradition. W&L and VMI, founded in 1749 and 1839, respectively, have added to a rich Rockbridge heritage that can claim influence from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, and Stonewall Jackson. The relationship between the two schools has evolved since the devastating effects of the Civil War. Both schools were affected by the War. VMI commemorates its cadets’ march to Newmarket and subsequent battle every year, while W&L, then Washington College, sent students to fight for the Confederacy as the Liberty Hall Volunteers. These volunteers were trained by then-VMI professor Thomas J. Jackson, who later became Lee’s right hand man.
When Robert E. Lee accepted the call of the Board of Trustees to become President of Washington College, he did so knowing that Lexington was the home of General Jackson. Since his presidency, W&L has strived to connect with VMI, and vice-versa. A student exchange program exists between the schools, and some students at W&L apply to enter VMI’s prestigious Arabic program. Another positive about having a military institution next door to campus is that W&L students can participate in VMI’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and, if they choose, can be commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army upon graduation.
Many children of VMI graduates, such as Parke Rouse, choose to attend W&L instead of the Institute. However, they often form friendships with VMI cadets. Rouse tells a story of one cadet who would break the ranks on his way to church in order to spend Sundays in a fraternity house. Furthermore, in addition to a multitude of “Double Generals,” it is not uncommon for a few VMI graduates from each class to attend W&L Law School.
Despite the many differences that result from inherently different schools, W&L and VMI have a lot in common. We at W&L often find it hard to imagine that VMI cadets do anything but march around all day and get yelled at. While I am sure any cadet would tell you that this is a regular occurrence, the cadets do occasionally get free weekends. As a native of Lexington, I know several cadets who could have easily fit the W&L lifestyle, but were offered scholarships or other opportunities that made VMI more appealing.
The schools have been connected since those days training under Jackson. On its athletic website, W&L claims that W&L and VMI played the first ever collegiate football game in the South in 1873, with W&L winning by a score of 4-2. Currently, W&L and VMI clash annually in the Lee-Jackson Lacrosse Classic, a fall game that marks the culmination of offseason workouts and preparation for both teams.
Service has also been ingrained in the tradition of each school. VMI houses a Center for Leadership and Ethics while W&L’s Shepherd Program provides many opportunities for student volunteerism. Students from both schools are involved in many facets of the community. I participated in Nabors’ Fall Service Day this year and served at Heritage Nursing Home with a few other students and several VMI cadets. Once we got past the differences in clothing, it was easy to talk to them as we worked, and both sides were interested in how the other side lived. This cooperation between students and cadets extends to regular tutoring and volunteer work in the Lexington community.
Today, there are many interactions between W&L students and VMI cadets, which goes to show that though we may live in different worlds, we share the same town and have many opportunities to learn from each other in the classroom, on the field, in the Lexington community, and in the nation.