“The Greatest Demonstration of Public Service”
In the favoring presence of family, friends, alumni reunioners, and other supporters, seven imminent graduates took their oaths of office and joined the armed forces of the United States on Wednesday morning, May 29, during the annual Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning ceremony in Tercentenary Theatre.
Second Lieutenants Grace Chao ’19 and Alannah O’Brien ’19 have joined the U.S. Army. Chao, of Centennial, Colorado, an economics concentrator with a minor in classics, will become an active duty field artillery officer. O’Brien, of Boston, who concentrated in human evolutionary biology, has received an education delay to attend medical school.
Second Lieutenant Brandon Lee ’19, a computer science concentrator from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, is headed to The Basic School at the Marines Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia.
Second Lieutenant Peter Hartnett ’19, of Sandwich, Massachusetts, an applied math concentrator, will enter active duty with the U.S. Air Force as a pilot.
Ensigns Alana Davitt ’19, Adrian Magana ’18, and David Schachman ’19 have joined the U.S. Navy. Davitt, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, who concentrated in engineering sciences with a minor in government, will report for active duty, submarines, at the navy’s Nuclear Power School. Magana, a comparative-literature concentrator from Indio, California, has been selected for active duty in aviation and will prepare at Naval Aviation Schools Command. Schachman, of Manhattan, Montana, a computer-science concentrator, will report for active duty, submarines, and attend the Naval Nuclear Power Training Command.
President Lawrence S. Bacow, addressing his first ROTC cohort at Harvard, reminded his audience of the “enduring connection between two of our country’s great institutions,” the U.S. military and the University, as exemplified by the buildings around them, including Memorial Hall (honoring alumni who died for the Union in the Civil War), Memorial Church (commemorating alumni deaths in subsequent wars), and even Loeb House, the former president’s residence turned over to the navy’s V-12 training program during World War II. Speaking directly to the future officers, he said:
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.…
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…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 Officers 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.
The ceremony’s stentorian guest speaker, General Mark A. Milley, currently Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, has been nominated by President Donald Trump to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Princeton graduate joked about infiltrating enemy lines before admitting to having a Harvard brother, but then turned serious. “The probability of your being deployed in harm’s way is very high,” he told the officer candidates—and in the face of that challenge, he offered advice.
“Being a military officer is unlike any profession on earth. It’s not just a job, it’s a way of life,” he asserted. The new ensigns and lieutenants would need to be extraordinarily competent as part of their obligation to the men and women looking to them not only for personal leadership but for evidence of competence and character. Those troops “don’t want to follow someone who’s immoral, who’s out there doing things like lying, cheating…They’re looking to you to have the spine to stand up and do that which is right, even when it’s going to cost you your career…who is not afraid to speak truth to power no matter what the cost will be to yourselves. Someone who is honest, who has standards, …. ”
Enlisted personnel, he continued, are also “looking to you to be humble.…” Referring to the ancient Greek concept of hubris, he said, “We see that in our daily lives all over the place: we see that in the military, we see it in politics, we see it in sports, in commercial life.…We see people who really think that they are above everything else.…” Military officers, he noted, “take an oath, and it’s not an oath to a king or queen or a dictator or a prince or any individual. We don’t do that. We take an oath to an idea…embedded in the Constitution of the United States of America.” It wasn’t perfect, he added, “and it’s evolved ever since,” but what it says is that “under that flag every one of us is born free and equal…and you will be judged by the contents of your character….” That, he concluded, is “the essence of this country called the United States of America and that’s what you’re taking an oath for, and that’s what some day you may have to give your life, or lead the soldiers, sailors, and marines that you are in charge of, who follow you, and lead them into combat for…. I’m extraordinarily proud of you.”