LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ7) -- A celebration of perseverance and academic achievement also held mixed emotions for members of the Virginia Military Institute Class of 2019.
"You know it's starting to hit me, I'm a little nostalgic," said Samuel Green, shortly after the ceremony . "I'm kind of wishing I was back as a rat, I've got four more years with my best friends."
Four years ago, almost 500 young men and women entered the rat line at Virginia Military Institute. Thursday, 291 members of the class and about a dozen others received their diplomas.
VMI Superintendent General Binford Peay delivered the commencement address, after Governor and VMI graduate Ralph Northam withdrew in the wake of controversy.
Peay urged the graduates to listen, learn and lead with the highest ideals.
"But if you leave the Institute with no other message, I hope it will be this,"" Peay told the graduates, "To a great extent you can make your own luck, particularly through hard work and learned wisdom."
And as many of the graduates prepare for military careers, they told us they are ready for whatever lies ahead.
"Uncertain times call for people with certain leadership and certain character," said Regimental Commander Benjamin Christopher Dixon. "And I hope that I've learned a thing or two at this place, and from my classmates and those that have come before me."
Cecelia Keppeler agreed.
"I'm proud to serve my country and whatever they throw at me, VMI has prepared me to take on the challenge," she said.
VMI's tradition of producing citizen-soldiers continues. More than half of the members of the Class of 2019 have received military commissions and will serve in the U.S. Armed Forces.