“The Spirit of Commitment and Sacrifice”
At the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning ceremony on Wednesday, May 27, three College seniors joined the U.S. Army and a fourth joined the U.S. Navy.
The new second lieutenants are:
- Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, of New Haven, Connecticut, who concentrated in philosophy and South Asian studies and now heads to Yale Law School, hoping to serve some day as an army judge advocate;
- Molly McFadden, of Norfolk, Massachusetts, a history concentrator bound for military intelligence training in Arizona; and
- William Scopa, of San Francisco, a social-studies concentrator whose next assignment will be the Armor Basic Officer Leadership Course in Georgia.
Ensign Sebastian Raul Saldivar, of Grand Prairie, Texas, the son of a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, concentrated in applied mathematics and moves on to the navy’s Nuclear Power School in South Carolina.
As members of the class of 2015, all four entered the College in the year that ROTC returned to the Harvard campus after nearly 40 years of formal separation dating from the Vietnam War era, and several have spoken about the reasons for their demanding extracurricular choice. In his freshman year, Saldivar told a Harvard Gazette reporter about watching “9/11 unfold in a third-grade class.” Seeing “so many Americans unite to help,” he continued, “I knew I wanted to serve.” In a more recent Harvard Crimson profile, Chua-Rubenfeld, whose grandparents lived in the Philippines under Japanese occupation during World War II, said, “I know I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I don’t serve my country in some way. This sounds so lofty and ridiculous, but I truly feel that if not for the U.S. military, I could not have the life that I have today.”
General David G. Perkins, the ceremony’s guest speaker, leads the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, making him responsible for “selecting and recruiting every…soldier, training and educating professionals, and designing the future…army to support national security.” The West Point graduate thanked President Drew Faust for continuing the relationship between Harvard and the U.S. military—two institutions, he pointed out, that focus on the pursuit of excellence and the education of leaders.
True leadership, he stressed, requires competency, commitment, and character; he framed all three qualities in terms of what the young officers-to-be could learn from those they would soon be leading. The military, Perkins said, would surround them with qualified noncommissioned officers and enlisted personnel who could help them learn. Will they be willing to claim you and invest in you? he challenged. “What they want to know is, are you committed to them?…You’ve got to keep in the back of your mind that while so far in your life you’ve had to be looking at people above you…to grade your homework, I’m now telling you to look at the people that you serve and say, what kind of homework and grade would I get with you all?”
Harvard’s Lincoln professor of history, President Faust, a scholar of the Civil War, then described how the College had commemorated the end of that war “exactly 150 years ago” at the end of Commencement week. It was, she explained,
a celebration of peace and of those who had won it, and a marking of Harvard’s role in preserving the nation. It was an acknowledgement of what we are here today to honor once again: the spirit of commitment and sacrifice embodied in military service and the contributions Harvard has made and will make to the national defense.
One speaker at that commemoration, she said, had noted that between 1861 and 1865,
[t]he members of the higher seminaries of learning throughout the land have been among the foremost to respond to the call of duty and patriotism. They have asked no exemption…pleaded no ineptitude for the hardships…of the soldiers’ lot.…Who else if not they? If the children of light [and learning] falter, who shall stand? If they hold back, who shall go forth?
“We are 150 years away from the day those words rang out in this very place,” Faust continued. “But their essential truth remains.” Turning to the officer candidates, she said:
You have recognized that Harvard comes with both privileges and responsibilities. You, like the soldiers celebrated here as the Civil War came to a close, have chosen to serve your country as military officers, to assume the duties and dangers inherent in that role. Many of your classmates will serve society, the nation and the world in other ways. But we honor you in this ceremony for undertaking a special calling grounded in sacrifice, commitment and, yes, danger. We honor you for honoring the tradition of national service that Harvard has so long embraced.
The administering of the services’ oaths of office and the presentation of commissions that followed brought moments that became intensely personal as family members pinned on the new officers’ insignia. Then Plummer professor Jonathan Walton, Pusey minister in the Memorial Church, offered a benediction and the Harvard University Band’s Brass Quintet offered its rendition of the traditional service songs, bringing the ceremony to a rousing close.