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Remarks by President Drew Gilpin Faust at signing of ROTC agreement between Harvard University and United States Air Force

Loeb House, Harvard University

As delivered.

Thank you, Dean Khurana. Secretary James; distinguished guests; Harvard students, colleagues, friends: It is a true honor and a privilege to be here with you today.

Five years ago last month, Secretary Ray Mabus and I signed an agreement to restore the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Harvard, and the University’s relationship with the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps was renewed one year later. Today, we complete our efforts to bring the full complement of ROTC programs back to our campus with the full and formal recognition of the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps.

I am grateful to the students, faculty, alumni, and staff who helped to make this moment possible through thoughtful advocacy and action. I thank, in particular, my deputy Robert Iuliano, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, who took the lead in Harvard’s discussions with the Air Force just as he did with the Army and the Navy.

Many thanks, as well, to Lieutenant Colonel Karen Dillard, the Commanding Officer of Detachment 365 of the Air Force ROTC at MIT, who has been a wonderful partner to the University and to the Harvard students with whom she works.

My deepest thanks—now and always—go to the many Harvard students and alumni who have answered the call to serve in the military. Across time and space, they have given generously of themselves on our behalf, and they deserve our respect, our admiration, and our gratitude.

So as we complete our work to return ROTC to campus with today’s signing, let us renew our support for them and our commitment to shared values—service, community, inclusion, and opportunity.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of ROTC at Harvard. Ours was one of the very first programs in the country, and students marched through Boston in a show of national “preparedness.” Captain Constant Cordier, the leader of the on-campus effort, said of the newly founded Harvard Regiment that “in all this land, there is no better material for officers.” Now this is a sentiment that I often share at our annual Commissioning Ceremony.

Two years later, Chief of the Army Air Service Major General George Owen Squier sent a telegram to Harvard’s president asking for the “best military students.” The United States military, he said, was in need of individuals who were, “punctual, reliable [and] accustomed to making quick decisions”—I don’t know where punctual goes with the notion of “Harvard Time” that seems to have evolved over the past century. Now these were qualities that the Major General thought he would find in abundance in the Harvard student population.

Harvard men and women have received revered military decorations including the Air Force Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the Silver Star. The University claims more Medal of Honor recipients than any other institution of higher education apart from the service academies.

We are reminded every day of distinguished military service and sacrifice that Harvard represents. Memorial Hall, Soldiers Field, and Memorial Church were all established to remind us, when we eat or play or pray, of the work of supporting and defending the Constitution. In quiet corners at the Divinity School, at the Law School, at the Medical School, and elsewhere are plaques and walls listing the names of those who gave their last full measure of devotion. We stand now in Loeb House, which was turned over to the Navy during World War II and used as a ship for training purposes, and I live and work in buildings that were used to house troops during the American Revolution.

These silent reminders connect us to the past. But ROTC is, of course, about the future. About the preparation of soldier-scholars who will lead on behalf of their generation and those that follow. You in ROTC are preparing to undertake consequential work, to make extraordinary sacrifices, and to lead with judgment, discipline, and integrity.  

In an increasingly complex world, we will need leaders in wartime and in peacetime who are educated broadly in the arts and sciences, leaders who can combine knowledge and wisdom with action.

We honor today the courage, devotion, and skill of women and men who continue to regard military service as public service—and whose numbers I hope increase in the years ahead. They remind us—as much as the places and other memorials—that Harvard and the United States military share a past. But they do even more for us. Their presence reminds us that we share a future as well.

It is now my great honor to welcome to Harvard the Honorable Deborah Lee James, 23rd Secretary of the United States Air Force.