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Harvard Welcomes Back ROTC


As prepared for delivery

Welcome, everyone — Secretary Mabus, distinguished guests, Harvard students, colleagues, friends. Like so many of you, I have looked forward to this day with anticipation and pride.

That pride extends especially to our students and our alumni who wear the uniforms of the several branches of the United States Armed Forces. It extends as well to the members of our community who have worked to broaden the avenues for more men and women here and elsewhere to serve their country.

Today I am pleased to join Secretary Mabus in announcing the renewal of Harvard’s historic relationship with the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps. That relationship dates back 85 years, to 1926, when Harvard became one of the six original participating institutions in the Navy ROTC.

In fact, our gathering place today holds historic significance for both the Navy and Harvard. It’s well known that this house was home to a series of Harvard presidents, over nearly sixty years. It’s less well known that, for several years in the 1940s, in the throes of World War II, Harvard President James Bryant Conant and his family packed their belongings and moved out of this house — so that it could be used round the clock as a venue for the Navy V-12 College Training Program.

Today, in this same house, we sign an agreement to restore the full and formal recognition of the Naval ROTC at Harvard.

Our renewed relationship affirms the vital role that the members of our Armed Forces play in serving the nation and securing our freedoms. It recognizes military service as an honorable and admirable calling, a powerful expression of an individual citizen’s commitment to contribute to the common good.

At the same time, our renewed relationship affirms the commitment embodied in Congress’s historic December vote to achieve greater inclusiveness within the ranks of the military — consonant with the ideals of our democracy and the best traditions of the Armed Forces. It underscores the importance that all of us place on opportunity and inclusion — on opening pathways for students to pursue their ambitions, to cultivate their capacity for leadership, to lead lives of value to others.

Over decades, and in their own distinctive ways, both the American military and American higher education have been engines of inclusion and wellsprings of service. The relationship we renew today marks progress in that common pursuit.

Under our new agreement, effective with the scheduled end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” we will again have a regular and durable presence of Navy training programs on our campus. ROTC offices will return to Harvard, under the leadership of a director of Naval ROTC and supporting staff.

Our classrooms and athletic facilities will be available for use in ROTC activities. Harvard will resume financial responsibility for costs of our students’ full participation in the highly regarded NROTC consortium that makes its principal home down the road at MIT.

These and other steps reflect the Navy’s expressed desires in regard to the renewal of Harvard’s formal ties with the Navy ROTC. And they reflect our own desire to welcome ROTC back to Harvard, in a way that will assure a supportive environment for what I hope will be a growing number of students who choose to participate. Harvard takes pride in being the institution of higher education whose alumni include more Medal of Honor recipients than any college or university other than the service academies.

There are today more than 200 students studying on our campus who are veterans, many of them having served in Iraq and Afghanistan. And during my three Commencement seasons as Harvard’s president I have had the honor of attending the ROTC commissioning ceremonies for our graduates.

We look forward, with the Navy and with the other branches of the Armed Forces, to extending and enriching that long tradition of service.

For today, I want to thank Secretary Mabus for his leadership and initiative. It has been a privilege to work with him to bring us to this historic day.

I want to thank the many members of our own community who have been voices for both the importance of embracing the opportunity for military service and the importance of greater inclusiveness in pursuit of that opportunity.

I want to thank the faculty colleagues and others who have given me thoughtful advice in recent months about charting a course for Harvard’s renewed relationship with ROTC. I am particularly grateful to Evelynn Hammonds, the Dean of Harvard College, here with us today, and to Robert Iuliano, General Counsel, who have worked especially hard to make this moment a reality.

Most of all, I want to thank the Harvard students and alumni, past, present, and future, who devote themselves to the nation’s service — and who embody qualities of leadership and courage, of devotion and sacrifice, that merit our gratitude and respect.

At our ROTC commissioning ceremony two years ago, I quoted something that our honored guest that day — General David Petraeus — once said about military service. “The most powerful tool any soldier carries,” he said, “is not his weapon but his mind.”

Those words have stayed much in my own mind — especially in anticipating this day. They speak to the bond between education and service, between learning and doing, between what universities have to offer and what our nation counts on us to provide. And they are words that we will keep in mind as we pursue what I hope will be equally productive discussions with the other services toward similar ends.

Let me close with words not of mine, but of a graduate of the Harvard College Class of 2010. She was commissioned last spring as a Second Lieutenant in the United Marine Corps. Her name is Shawna Lee Sinnott. She wrote to me last summer, and I wanted to share some of her thoughts with all of you:

“I was hesitant to come to [Harvard] at first,” she wrote. “And I thought I would receive less than a warm welcome when I walked around the Yard in uniform. [But] as soon as I got here, I felt at home. … I developed a deeper understanding of the need for a military presence on Harvard’s campus. … [And] I was able to provide a unique … perspective to my fellow students, many of whom will someday find themselves making policy decisions about our nation’s military men and women. ….

“As a scholar of war,” she wrote to me, “you … understand the critical relationship that has existed between Harvard and the military since the University’s founding, and … the need to cultivate this mutually beneficial relationship into the future.”

I am very pleased that all of us here have had the opportunity to play a part in cultivating that relationship. And I am very pleased to welcome, and to introduce, the person who has been a driving force in renewing that relationship — the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus.