Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled women should be allowed to enroll at Virginia Military Institute.
“When the first guy got in my face, I was like, I can’t leave,” Kelly Sullivan said back then.
She was one of the first women to enroll at VMI and now is vice president of a Florida telecommunications company.
“We proved that we had the grit and the strength, and we had the intellect to be able to get through a very difficult, very hard, very stoic environment,” she said.
Lara Chambers, a 2003 graduate, was in the third class with women. She runs a construction company and serves the VMI Board of Visitors. She recalled what a high school English teacher told her as she headed to VMI.
“You’re not going for yourself, you’re going for everyone after you, so you need to show them that this was the right decision,” she said.
VMI’’s new superintendent knows a little bit about being among the first and about the skeptics who may still question women in the corps.
“By every measure, Virginia Military Institute is a better school since the integration of women,” Maj. Gen. Cedric Wins said.
The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the opinion opening VMI to women.
During a campus visit in 2017, Chambers gave the Justice her VMI combat ring.
“I just said, ‘You know, I wanted to give you this on behalf of all the other females, this is our combat ring and thank you for battling for us,’” Chambers said.
Sullivan also shared her gratitude for a decision she points out also changed the lives and minds of many men.
“To me it’s more changing the mindset of the men who didn’t necessarily want us to attend the school,” she said.
Next school year, for the first time a female student will lead the corps of cadets as regimental commander. Kasey Meredith knows she, too, will have something to prove.
“I’m looking at working truly hard for the people to understand that females are capable of leading,” she said.
Before she gets started in her new role, she’s headed to Quantico for officer candidate school where she hopes to become a Marine by the end of the summer.
Since the Supreme Court ruling, 602 women have graduated from VMI. In most years between 12 and 15% of the students there are women.