Colonel Mathis, distinguished guests, Harvard students, colleagues, friends. It’s an honor and a privilege to be here with you this afternoon.
Last March, Secretary Ray Mabus and I signed an agreement to restore the full and formal recognition of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps at Harvard. On September 20th, the nation marked the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and as we celebrated this milestone for American democracy, we also welcomed the NROTC back to campus. And ten days later, the first-ever University-wide student veterans’ orientation was held at Loeb House.
Today, we celebrate the latest chapter in the shared history of the United States military and Harvard University, the reestablishment of a formal presence of the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps on the Harvard campus.
As president, and as an individual, I feel a very direct connection to the shared history of Harvard and the United States Army and to the history of the United States Army. My father served in Patton’s 3rd army in World War II and as I was growing up, my house was filled with photographs of my father, my grandfather, my uncles in their World War II uniforms. Here at Harvard I live in a house that was used by George Washington’s troops as a hospital during the Revolution. And my office in Massachusetts Hall was also used as a hospital during the American Revolution. These to me are constant reminders of the legacy of distinguished service that Harvard represents and that you, our students, will perpetuate in the years to come.
It’s my sincere hope that the last 13 months will be remembered as a time of dramatic and welcome change at Harvard, an era of renewal characterized by expanded opportunity. Nearly four years ago, Iraq veteran and Kennedy School degree candidate Captain Anthony Woods delivered the graduate English address at Harvard’s Commencement. In his remarks, he urged his fellow graduates to redefine the notion of “Q&A,” to respond to challenging questions not only with answers, but also with action. A few months later, he himself acted in accordance with his conscience and disclosed to his commanding officer that he is gay. He had to abandon his lifelong dream of a military career and leave the service. We are so grateful that he would no longer have to make that choice.
I thank every member of the Harvard community, here and elsewhere, who has made what we celebrate today possible. Diversity strengthens our University and our country, fortifying the foundation of talent on which our shared success must necessarily be built.
I thank the members of the faculty advisory committee for their very thoughtful counsel, and I’m pleased to see a number of them here today. I thank the members of our implementation committee, ably led by co-chairs Nick Christakis and Kit Parker, for putting in place the necessary practical arrangements. As some of you will remember, Kit had been deployed to Afghanistan when we met here in September. I’m delighted that he is now back safe and well here in the United States. I want to offer special thanks to Evelynn Hammonds, who worked so hard on all of this over the many months and who is here and will speak to you in just a few moments. And I also want to thank Robert Iuliano, Harvard’s General Counsel who has taken the lead in our discussions with the Army as he did with the Navy last year. We were just reminiscing about a visit we made together to the Pentagon a little over a year ago and how that will be an unforgettable moment in our lives, so a special thanks to you, Bob.
I also thank Colonel Timothy Hall, the Commanding Officer of the Paul Revere Battalion, who has been a wonderful partner and generous source of expertise and a terrific inspiration to the students with whom he works.
And I extend my deepest thanks, now and always, to the many Harvard students and alumni who have answered the call to support and defend the Constitution. They have served throughout time and around the world on our behalf, and they deserve our deepest respect and admiration.
Harvard men and women past and present have valiantly sacrificed for the sake of the nation, receiving revered military decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Silver Star, and more Medal of Honor recipients than any other institution of higher education other than the service academies.
In the Civil War, which is the subject of my academic study, Major General Henry Huidekoper, who was a graduate of the College Class of 1862, left Cambridge before his Commencement, and joined the Union Army in his home state of Pennsylvania. During the first day at Gettysburg, he suffered a wound that would cost him his right arm, but, and I quote his Medal of Honor citation, “instead of retiring he remained at the front in command of the regiment.”
When he himself reflected on his actions and those of his troops, he later wrote, “…we only did our duty, as American soldiers always will, so long as patriotism and freedom are the watchwords which stimulate their heroism.”
Harvard is proud to count among its alumni heroic soldier-scholars who have combined thought and action in times of war and times of peace, who have rightly regarded military service as public service. May the students who visit this space be inspired, as those in our past have been, by the highest ideals of the United States of America, ideals that have stood us in good stead, and ideals that continue to motivate us as we seek liberty and justice for all.
Thank you very much.