‘Unity Is Victory’: A Tribute to VWIL Class of 2020

By Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric, United States Air Force, Retired

We are proudly celebrating the Class of 2020 in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) at Mary Baldwin University as they graduate. Not surprisingly, they defied the odds.

The Class of 2020 during their nULL (first) year in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, February 2017.

When 50 individuals arrived on campus in August 2016 to start their MBU journey through VWIL, they represented several of the least successful demographic groups for college graduates: 64% were first-generation college students, 74% were from minority race and ethnic groups, and 78% were out-of-state students. Yet four years later, 32 of those 50 individuals have graduated from Mary Baldwin University, and 24 have also completed four years with the VWIL corps of cadets.

VWIL proudly understands that this 64% graduation rate is repeatable by uniting individuals from across the country within a living-learning leadership community focused on values and hard work. This is what the VWIL program and the corps of cadets do successfully every year. 

Several leading reasons that students drop out of college are related to finances, trouble balancing academics with social opportunities, and homesickness. These cadets, and others like them, overcame the dropout odds. They led our newly organized university through transformative years, and graduated in four years with significant job offers and acceptance into graduate school. During their time at MBU, they successfully focused on financing college, academic achievements, and building a community.

Last August, regimental staff in the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership Class of 2020 led the first parade of the 2019–20 academic year on SMA Worth Field.


Giving up their home state tuition assistance grants, 78% of the VWIL Class of 2020 came to Virginia to attend MBU, and nearly half of these cadets started college with lower merit scholarships. Through positive mentorship and hard work, nine cadets exceeded ROTC standards and were awarded full tuition scholarships and another two are completing ROTC contracts. Additionally, the top achieving cadets of this class were the first to earn Hearst Foundation scholarships, and they earned the generous Staunton Military Academy Alumni Foundation scholarships, showing that hard work pays.


Over half of these cadets started college with high school grade point averages (GPA) below 3.0, yet four years later they graduated with an average class GPA over 3.0 and seven cadets have maintained GPAs above 3.5. Again, these cadets understand that hard work pays. Study hours are mandatory for our corps of cadets. We assign peer advisors with college GPAs above 3.0 and similar degree interests to each first-year cadet. We help new cadets draft their four-year college degree plan including the leadership studies minor. VWIL provides tutoring and academic improvement support for cadets whose GPA falls below 2.5 and for anyone with two or more unsatisfactory midterm reports. VWIL rewards cadets with GPAs above 3.0 with academic stars for their uniforms, and the platoons with the highest GPAs are also recognized. 


During the first week of classes in August 2016, VWIL 2020 immediately and proudly helped lead guests around campus during the celebration of Mary Baldwin’s 175th anniversary celebration and new university status. Of the 32 graduating seniors who started with VWIL, 92% took on MBU leadership positions and participated in NCAA athletics from their freshman year through their senior year in addition to their VWIL duties. They created a class motto of “Unity is Victory.” Freshman year, they shared hallways in Spencer Residence Hall and most chose to live within the VWIL community all four years. This sense of support, unity, and community is VWIL 2020’s source of strength.

Celebrating VWIL 2020’s Success 

The VWIL Class of 2020 graduated 71% of its first-generation college students (compared to 66% nationally),1 59% African Americans (28% nationally), and 55% Hispanics (35% nationally).2  

Please join us in congratulating these proud seniors for all they’ve accomplished at MBU and VWIL — and wish them well with their bright futures.

  1. “One-third of first-generation students dropped out of college after three years, compared to 14% of their peers whose parents had earned a degree.” 2018, U.S. Education Department’s National Center for Education Statistics
  2. Graduation Rates and Race” from Inside Higher Education

Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric, U.S. Air Force, Retired

Brig. Gen. Terry Djuric is the commandant of cadets for the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership (VWIL) and senior advisor to the president at MBU. Her last assignment was deputy director, Space and Intelligence Office, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics at The Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Read more about her military career here.