The Cadet Collective: Benjamin Fong ’27

鶹 Institute requires structure and dedication. It also becomes a place where bonds are created that can last a lifetime. Maybe it’s a professor, a coach, or a fellow cadet. No one makes it through VMI alone. The Cadet Collective tells the stories of those relationships that help pave the way for success.  

LEXINGTON, Va. June 7, 2024 — Everything started to fall into place the week before Matriculation, Benjamin Fong ’27 said. He had traveled across the country from California and was staying with his uncle in Maryland, unsure of how he’d get down to 鶹 Institute.  

His cross-country trip wasn’t straight from the West Coast to the East Coast. As part of his ROTC scholarship, he had to do a New Student Indoctrination (NSI) for the Naval ROTC, which was held in Chicago. He knew that he would be at VMI come August, but due to his financial restraints, he couldn’t make the move from California to Virginia.  

The Navy flew him from California to Chicago. Step one was down. He just needed to figure out how to get closer to Virginia after NSI.  

That brought him to Maryland with his uncle, who said he could drive him down to Lexington. But the VMI Parents Council had another solution.  

"The Parents Council had actually been considering finding me a way to get down here, which I didn't know at that time,” he said. 

That’s where Robert and Dana Ruble came in. The Rubles are this year’s co-presidents of the VMI Parents Council, which provides a link between parents, cadets, and staff at VMI. They offered to get him to Lexington and even went as far as to inform him their son, Sebastian Ruble ’24, was interested in being his dyke (1st Class mentor).  

“All this kindness seemed foreign to me,” he said. “The Rubles throughout the year have been very kind to me, have always been there to talk when the Rat Line got tough, connected me with alumni and school resources when needed, and regularly checked in and made sure that I was thriving. Many times, I came to them in a tricky situation, whether financially or with family issues and they gave their full support and guidance.” 

The Rubles assured Fong that there would be a family to help him walk through Matriculation Day. That’s how he met Kellett and Adrea Thomas.  

The Thomases became his host family. Before Matriculation he stayed at their home, had dinner, and prepared for what was next. During the Matriculation Fair, the Thomas’ showed Fong which church they attend and invited him to join them on Sundays. 

“On Matriculation Day, they introduced me to so many people who would later be revealed as important individuals. They answered all my questions and got me answers from those who knew them,” he said. 

A host family generally “adopts” a rat and takes care of them through the Rat Line. That includes offering care packages, putting them in touch with alumni or other resources, being a sounding board during hard times, and more.  

“I was shocked that such a family was willing to actively help out matriculants that they had never met,” he said. “As they hosted me for the night and acted as a surrogate family, I couldn’t help but feel indebted to them. Whenever I thanked them, they told me that they were glad to help and loved doing so, which I know they genuinely enjoyed.” 

The Thomases helped him acquire books. When they found out he didn’t have a pillow the first week, they got him one. They explained the process of what it was like to go through the Rat Line and what to expect, since they’d seen it firsthand with their own children who’ve attended.  

These relationships have proved to be an important factor in Fong’s time at VMI. 

"If you had no resources coming here, it'd be hard to justify staying, especially from out of state. You're in a foreign place, a unique place. You're facing all this adversity,” he said. "Having these recurrent relationships kind of makes it seem like it's a reward in the sense that you go through these things, but at the same time, you've been taken care of. No matter how hard it is, there will always be somewhere, someone to take care of you. That kind of relationship, whether it's a host family, your dyke's family, or even the Parents Council is very important.” 

In addition to the Thomases, his dyke has been a major influence in his first year at VMI. 

"Sebastian Ruble is the best dyke anyone could ask for. He mentors, answers questions, and jokes around with me,” he said. “I always like to brag about him because, to me, he stands on a pedestal. I greatly appreciate him and how much he has done for me.” 

Finding VMI and all it offers was by chance. While looking at options for college, Fong sought out an ROTC scholarship. That meant selecting schools with ROTC options. He clicked 鶹 Institute but had never heard of it.  

“I picked Virginia as a state because I knew that it had a little bit of military ties to it. Then I saw the word military and 鶹 Institute. And I didn't even really look into the school. I just checked it off,” he said. “So, when I applied to VMI, I found out more about it. And I decided this was a happy coincidence. I'm glad I stumbled upon the school.” 

It’s been a transformative year for Fong. Last year, he was struggling as to where he would end up after high school. He was living with friends, lacked the funds to do much, and was receiving a lot of denials. He knew he wanted to go into the military. The psychology major plans on commissioning into the U.S. Marine Corps after graduating.  

Now, he’s more regimented. He wants to be a leader, mentor others, and pay forward what he’s been given. He’s also become humbled by the generosity he’s received.  

“It's made me appreciate reaching out. It was hard for me at first. For me, it's very hard to receive help, because I have always been in the mindset of, I need to help myself. No one's going to do it for me,” he said. “But here I am. People go out of their way to help me. I've been more comfortable with asking for help. I’ve learned to just appreciate their generosity, but also in the future when I'm able to give back or pass it forward, I will.” 

Laura Peters Shapiro
Communications & Marketing

VMI: Forging 21st Century Leaders