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ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Thank you, Colonel Baker, thank you for the leadership you provide to the cadets at Harvard who serve as part of the Paul Revere Battalion. It is indeed an honor to be with you today as part of this commissioning ceremony. It is a particular privilege to see so many friends from the Class of 1952. I had a good time with you on Monday evening, and I hope you’ve been having a good time here.

It was a thrill for me as it always is to hear the Star Spangled Banner performed before the ceremony began, and I’m looking forward to the fact that we will be hearing the Star Spangled Banner tomorrow morning before the Harvard commencement begins, and that is as it should be.

We are gathered today to celebrate the achievements and the promise of three very special individuals. I want once again to congratulate Charles Cromwell, Brian Smith, and Sean McGrath, each of whom today assumes an important mantle of leadership in our nation’s armed forces, each of whom has made sacrifices already and is prepared to sacrifice in the future in defense of our nation and its values.

Let me also say a word to Charlie and Brian and Sean’s families, who are here with us today. As president of the university, I can say there are no students who are graduating this year of whom I am more proud than these three fine young men. Thank you for supporting them and for sending them to us. I am sure that the legacy that they leave Harvard will last long past the day that they leave here.

In taking those oaths of office a few minutes ago, they continue what is an important part of the Harvard tradition. They made a commitment to what is essential to the future of our country. I know that I have no moment of greater pride in my life than the moment I had an opportunity to take an oath of office very much like the one they took to serve in the Treasury Department. And I know also that the work of this nation is in important respects the work of public service.

On that horrible and fateful day of September 11th, the only people who were going up the stairs in the World Trade Center were public servants, were public servants wearing uniforms. None of us should ever forget that. All forms of public service make a great contribution to our society. I believe there is a special grace and a special nobility to those who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice and the ultimate commitment to their country. We are fortunate as a university; we are fortunate as citizens of this country, to have young men like these three who are prepared to serve in our nation’s armed forces.

You know, we venerate at this university—as we should—openness, debate, the free expression of ideas, as central to what we are all about and what we should be. But we must also respect and admire moral clarity when it is required as in the preservation of our national security and the defense of our country. All of us admire those many graduates of this university who have served in our country’s armed forces. They deserve our respect and our admiration, never more than at this present moment in our country’s history.

Charlie, Brian, Sean, as you embark on your new careers, I hope that you will look fondly on your time here at Harvard. I hope and I trust that the lessons that you learned here will help guide you as you serve our country. I want to thank you for serving your country and doing your part to protect all of us. Good luck and God speed.