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In the year the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps returned to the University campus, four new officers from Harvard joined the armed forces of the United States during Commencement week. President Drew Faust and U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, J.D. ’75, spoke at today’s commissioning ceremony on the steps of Memorial Church, both underlining, in Faust’s words, the “essential connection between the military and the society it serves[, which] underscores why the military is important to Harvard and why Harvard is important to the military.”

Navy veteran Bruce Johnstone ’62, M.B.A. ’66, representing the fiftieth-reunion College class, echoed that theme of service when he told the future officers, “Many of the people that you are going to be in charge of, right out of the gate, are not going to be as fortunate as you.…You’re going to be to them a teacher, you’re going to be a mentor, you’re going to be an inspiration—and you’re going to make a huge difference in the lives of an awful lot of people in your new life as commissioned officers. So congratulations, and thank you all very much!”

Secretary Mabus, whom Faust called “an inspiring partner” who “reached out to me, believing that together we could” restore Harvard’s ROTC ties, said his presence at the commissioning ceremony represented “a circle completed.” More than 40 years earlier, he explained, when he reported to his first ship, in the Boston Naval Shipyard, as a brand-new officer, the nation was involved in a

war which had split this country. The conflict over the purpose of that war spilled into a conflict over the people who served in it. And when I ended my military service and came to law school here, ROTC was gone. I am very proud that our country today may debate the purpose of a war, but is united in the support of the warriors who fight. And I am proud to have been a partner with President Drew Faust…in bringing ROTC back to Harvard—one of the great delights I’ve had in this job. She has supported the military at Harvard and she has supported the inclusion of all communities at Harvard into military service.…Both parties, Harvard and the military, have benefitted mightily from this partnership. The military should be representative of the country it protects, and a great university and its students should be exposed to the fullest range of ideas and experiences and perspectives.

In her own brief remarks, Faust noted that both Captain Curtis Stevens, professor of naval science at MIT, and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Hall, professor of military leadership at MIT, were leaving the ROTC program—Stevens for retirement and Hall for a new post in Germany. Calling them “not just wonderful teachers and mentors for our students, but wonderful colleagues—and diplomats,” she said she hoped both officers shared her pleasure “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.”

Faust, the daughter of a decorated veteran of World War II, also took pains to clarify why she felt ROTC belonged at Harvard.

We have heard a great deal in the media this past year about the 1 percent—those at the pinnacle of the economic pyramid. I want us to think for just a moment about a quite different 1 percent. It actually is closer to one-half of 1 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,” she added, “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.” 

This morning, however, Faust focused on the four “about-to-be commissioned” officers sharing the stage with her:

  • U.S. Army second lieutenant Victoria Migdal ’12, of Eliot House and Pleasantville, New York, a neurobiology concentrator who will join the Medical Corps and attend medical school at Vanderbilt.
  • Second lieutenant Nicole Unis, of Lanesborough, Massachusetts, who has earned a Master of Liberal Arts degree in management, with a concentration in finance, from Harvard Extension School. She will join the Army Reserve in a military intelligence battalion.
  • U.S. Navy ensign Evan Roth ’12, of Dunster House and Canandaigua, New York, a government concentrator with a secondary field in East Asian studies who has also earned a language citation in Mandarin Chinese. He has been assigned to the USS Lassen, based in Yokosuka, Japan.
  • U.S. Air Force second lieutenant Isaiah Peterson ’12, of Cabot House and Spokane, a philosophy concentrator with a secondary field in organismic and evolutionary biology who has earned a language citation in Spanish. He joins the Judge Advocate General Corps and plans to attend law school at Georgetown.

She presented them with copies of The Civil War: The Second Year Told by Those Who Lived It, and thanked them for their “choice to serve, a choice that will continue to distinguish you among your classmates and among your fellow citizens. I hope that each of you will take fullest advantage of the learning that you have gained here as you do the important work that lies before you. I congratulate you and I congratulate your families.”