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2012 Remarks at ROTC Commissioning Ceremony

Tercentenary Theatre, Cambridge, Mass.

As delivered

This has been an historic year.  It is, of course, our 375th birthday.  But as Lt. Col. Hall has noted, it has also been the year that ROTC returned to the Harvard campus.  In September we opened the Naval ROTC office; in March, we cut the ribbon for the Army.  I was especially moved to witness the return of a ceremonial saber, presented in 1916 by the Harvard cadets of the nation’s oldest ROTC unit to their commanding officer. And now both the saber and ROTC are back at Harvard.

Three people on this stage deserve very special thanks for making this happen.  Captain Stevens and Lt. Col. Hall have been not just wonderful teachers and mentors for our students, but wonderful colleagues – and diplomats – as we worked through the complexities to achieve what we celebrated with our two ribbon cuttings this past year. As you have heard, both Captain Stevens and Lt. Col. Hall will be leaving Harvard – Captain Stevens for retirement and Lt. Col. Hall for a new post in Germany.  I hope that they are as gratified as I am that they will have completed their time here with their official new titles: Director of Naval ROTC and Director of Army ROTC for Harvard University.

We all also owe a deep debt of gratitude to Secretary Mabus, who reached out to me believing that together we could get this done.  Secretary Mabus was an inspiring partner all along the way.  Mr. Secretary: I hope we get a chance someday to tackle something else together.  It was a real pleasure.

When Secretary Mabus spoke here in March 2011, on the day we announced our plans for the return of ROTC, he said, “In order to best serve our nation, the military has to strive to be reflective of the nation it protects.  And it does not serve our country well if any part of our society does not share in the honor of its defense.” This essential connection between the military and the society it serves underscores why the military is important to Harvard and why Harvard is important to the military.  This conviction lay at the heart of our commitment to bring back ROTC.

We have heard a great deal in the media this past year about the 1% – those at the pinnacle of the economic pyramid.  I want us to think for just a moment about a quite different 1%.  Actually it is closer to one half of one percent. This is the proportion of the American population that is enrolled in the military.  The Founding Fathers cautioned that we as a nation must not permit the military to become separated from its society and its citizenry.  In the era of the All-Volunteer Force, we must be particularly attentive to this imperative. And as Harvard seeks to shape that society and educate its citizens, it must necessarily be connected to its military. We must ensure that Harvard students understand military service as a choice to consider and honor, even if – and perhaps especially if – they pursue other paths.  And we hope that students from Harvard will dedicate themselves to military service in increasing numbers, using their remarkable talents to play a significant part in the responsibility and the privilege of defending our nation. I am pleased to see that indication of interest in participation in ROTC from members of next year’s freshman class is very high, and I hope to see many of them on this stage four years from now.

Commenting on the Harvard Regiment in 1916, Captain Constant Cordier, the recipient of the ceremonial saber that now hangs in the Army ROTC office, remarked that “in all this land there is no better material for officers than is found in the student body of Harvard.” I want to thank our about-to-be commissioned officers for their choice to serve, a choice that will continue to distinguish you among your classmates and your fellow citizens. I hope that each of you will take fullest advantage of the learning you have gained here as you do the important work that lies before you.  I congratulate you, and I congratulate your families.  Thank you.