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Statement at ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

Harvard University

Thank you very much, Col. Baker, for those kind words. Thank you also for your wonderful leadership in the Harvard ROTC program. I want to thank also all those on the stage from the military, as well as Roger Taylor, for all that you have contributed to Harvard’s educational programs through your work with ROTC.

I am glad that you chose to celebrate the service of Dean Harry Lewis, who has been a strong supporter of ROTC during his eight years as Dean of Harvard College.

I want to congratulate the officers who were commissioned today on the choice they have made, on the contributions to Harvard that they have given, and on the service to our country and to the world that they are going to provide. There are no Harvard students who are graduating this year of whom I am more proud. Congratulations ROTC Class of 2003.

I want also to thank the families of those we commissioned today for bringing up your children in a way where they could become the young people that they are today. Thank you for the support you have given them that has enabled them to make the choices they have made. We as Americans are grateful to them, and we as Americans are grateful to you. Thank you to the families of the ROTC graduates.

Col. Baker noted — and it is something that I take pride in — that we have more ROTC students today than we have had at any point in the last decade. That is a good thing, but it should not blind us to the very substantial accomplishments of those who have recently graduated from Harvard ROTC. People like Navy Lt. John T. Green, Class of 1999, who was in one of the first Special Ops teams deployed to Afghanistan. Navy Lt. Jennifer Anderson, Class of 1999, who served as a nuclear engineer aboard the USS Nimitz, in support of U.S. air strikes on Iraq. Navy Lt. Luis A.P. Gonzalez, Class of 2001, who served as a surface warfare officer and participated in the first tactical air to land missile strikes in Afghanistan. Air Force Lt. Scott A. Gunn, Class of 2001, was the distinguished honor graduate of Euro-NATO jet pilot training on an F-15C jet. Lt. Gunn set a new course record for the school. Believe me, the people who graduate from Harvard ROTC go forth and make a very big difference.

It’s not what we always talk most about in a University community, but service to one’s country is something that is very important. The oath of office that these young men and women took is the same oath of office that I was privileged to take when I was in the government. Taking that oath of office and hearing the national anthem played was one of the proudest moments of my life, as I know this must be one of the proudest moments in your lives. Service to country is something that is profoundly important.

We as a nation are strong because we are free. Our freedom contributes to our strength. It is what enables the great ideas to happen here. It is what creates the opportunity for scientists in so many ways to advance our understanding of the world. It is our freedom that makes it possible for this to be a land of opportunity where people can come to places like Harvard from every walk of life, from every background, from every part of the country. It is our freedom that makes this country a powerful example to people all over the world. It is an important source of our strength.

If we are strong because we are free, I would tell you also that we are free because we are strong. Because as we have been reminded during the time when these wonderful young people studied at Harvard — reminded of something that every generation knows — the hard truth is that there is evil in this world. The reality is that as much as we may debate the meaning of truth, there are some truths beyond debate. That there is sometimes a clear difference between wrong and right and that difference is not only a matter of understanding. We may wish that it were otherwise, but in this world — at this time — we are free because we are strong and we must be grateful to those who support the strength of our country: the men and women of the U.S. military.

Let me make one final observation from my experience in Washington. Every year there is a dinner called the Gridiron Dinner that brings together people from the congressional branch, the executive branch, the press corps, and others to celebrate and laugh. At the beginning of that dinner, the songs of each military branch are performed. The people present who had served in that branch of the service stand up when their song is played. I remember when I attended that dinner the gentleman who was sitting beside me who was about 25 years older than me, looked out and noticed that there weren’t nearly as many people standing as when he had attended the dinner 25 years before. At that time, most of the people in the room stood up at one moment or the other, but at the dinner I attended, not many people stood up. And he wondered what that meant for the country. He noted that the military is central to the leadership of the country, and that it was so vitally important that those in the military and those with an understanding of the military be closely connected. He wondered what the lack of people standing was going to mean for leadership of our country in the next generation if the trend continued.

That’s why programs like Harvard ROTC are so very important — because Harvard aspires to train leaders of our country. People in key positions in the military are leaders of our country whether in war or in peace. That’s why the opportunity that our university is able to provide to these students, in close cooperation with MIT, is something that is really very important to our mission as a university.

This ceremony is one of the things I look forward to each year and I am very grateful to you all for being here, and especially to the new officers who make it possible. Congratulations and thank you!