Remarks at the 2019 ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

As delivered.

Thank you, Major [David] Stalker. It is an honor to be here this morning to congratulate our about-to-be commissioned officers, their parents and family members, and their mentors and friends. At times like this, I think it’s important to remember that no one gets anywhere of consequence in life alone, and this ceremony is a wonderful reminder of that fact. So to the families, the loved ones, the friends, the parents, the fellow classmates who supported each and every one of you on this journey—thank you for all you have done to make this day possible.

Today, we acknowledge an enduring connection between two of our country’s great institutions: the United States military and Harvard University. We are reminded of that connection by the buildings that surround us on this campus. Loeb House, right over there, was turned over to the Navy for its V-12 school training program during the Second World War by my predecessor James Conant; Memorial Church, the building behind us, was built in memory of those who died serving in the First World War and was commissioned on Veterans Day in the 1930s; and Memorial Hall, which stands farther behind us, was built in memory of those who died preserving the Union in the Civil War. Massachusetts Hall—where my office is located—housed George Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War. And Elmwood—where Adele and I have the privilege to live, a little bit farther afield—was a military hospital under General Washington and treated troops that were injured in the Battle of Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, and indeed many of the casualties of those battles are buried across the street from my house.

Libertas and veritas—liberty and truth—have been bound through time to humanity’s lasting benefit. Our about-to-be-commissioned officers will carry those values into the future, prepared for the life that awaits you both by the training you have received here and by the education and knowledge you have gained here. The liberal arts have prepared you to think critically and deeply, your observations informed by history, literature, and philosophy. And your concentrations—in engineering and the applied sciences, the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities—have given you opportunities to distinguish yourselves through research and scholarship.

After tomorrow’s Commencement rites, you will, in the words of one of my predecessors, Charles William Elliot, “depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.” Those of us privileged to study at Harvard bear a special responsibility to use the gifts that we’ve been given to try to make the world a better place. Your presence in the several branches of the military will not only contribute to the support and defense of the Constitution, but also underscore the unique contributions that students educated at Harvard—and places like Harvard, including Princeton—can and should make to the armed forces.

Military service is the greatest demonstration of public service. In the years to come, I hope to strengthen the ways in which Harvard acknowledges the contributions of students in the Reserve Officer Training Corps and of active duty and veteran students and alumni from across the University. And I hope to see more undergraduates on this platform in the future, inspired and emboldened by the example you have set for them, and those who have come before you.

You are—and you will always be—part of the Harvard College Class of 2019. But you stand apart from your classmates. Your courage and your selflessness are worthy of praise, and your devotion to the ideals that created the United States of America is an inspiration to us all. Today, we honor your choice and we honor your service. To each and every one of you thank you for what you have done already for us, for what you do, and will do for us in the future. Good luck to each of you, and Godspeed.