Remarks at the Harvard ROTC Commissioning Ceremony 2007

Stephen Rosen, Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs at Harvard
June 6, 2007

I am honored to be here more than I can say. Today is a day of celebration, but also of leave taking. I would like first to speak to the Harvard students, soon to be graduates, who are leaving Harvard and entering into active duty in the armed services of the United States of America. Then, I would like to speak to your families who are here to see you commence your new lives.

Graduating seniors, four years ago you were chosen by Harvard. The most intelligent and accomplished high school students in the country, and the world, competed for entrance into Harvard, and Harvard chose you. Teaching you at Harvard has been a joy, but you were chosen because we hoped and believed that you would make a difference in the world when you left Harvard. The fact that you are here is a sure sign you will fulfill those hopes and beliefs. Four years ago, Harvard chose you, and four years ago you chose military service. You chose military service in 2003, in a time of war. You chose military service, knowing that you could be sent by your country in harm’s way. You did not choose the peacetime military, but, rather, the life of a warrior. Harvard honors public service, but is uneasy with national military service, because it is uneasy with war, and with warriors, and it is no longer comfortable with the idea of Harvard as an American university, as opposed to an international university. We all wish to avoid war, none more so than the men and women who must confront the face of war directly. We welcome students and faculty from around the world. But the United States is our country. Without the United States, there would be no Harvard, and we should never forget that. And our country is still at war, and so I salute your courage, your commitment to national service, and the sacrifices you have made and will make.

Let me speak now to the families of the graduating seniors. In one way, I have little right to speak to you. For the past five years, the president of Harvard has addressed this meeting, and I am not the president of Harvard. I was never in the military, nor do I have children in the military. But I do have former students, some of whom I have known since childhood, now in the American military, and serving in Iraq. I have taught some of the seniors we are saluting today. I can feel some faint echo of the feelings you have today, your pride, and your cares, as you enjoy these days with your children before the leave. I am not a warrior. I read books for my living, and so now I think of the books I have read. Willa Cather wrote a book, One of Our Own, set in America in 1917. She tells the story of a mid-Western young man who has volunteered to fight in the world war in France, because France is the country of culture, and liberty, and Lafayette. He spends his last day before leaving with his mother, who is old, and almost blind. They have a happy day together, and then, in uniform, he leaves the house he grew up in. She lingers in the door, trying to see him, and when he is gone she cries out, “Old eyes! You have cheated me! You have denied me the sight of my glorious son!” Today, we older people here are happy not to be denied the sight of these glorious young men and women as they leave, but, in truth, we will be much happier to see them when they come back to us, safe and sound.

To you all! This is a serious and splendid day. My congratulations and best wishes go out to all of you, as well as my thanks for being allowed to be a part of it.