Normally, ROTC cadets are officially sworn in to the U.S. armed services in front of the statue of John Harvard before moving on to a more formal ceremony in the Yard’s Tercentenary Theatre. But the 2006 class gathered instead under the tent covering the theater stage, looking out onto a sea of puddled white chairs as the bronze figure in front of University Hall sat alone and drenched hoping, perhaps, for a sunnier afternoon.
“It’s a unique situation with this rain,” said one military man as the cadets took their individual oaths privately while the audience chose their seats in the wings. “We’ve got the band warming up over there, and the wind is wet and cold. This inclement weather is somewhat” – he paused – “annoying.”
Still, the cadets and their families, along with the attending officials, were all smiles by the time the formal swearing-in began. The ceremony started with the U.S. Air Force Band of Liberty performing the national anthem and an invocation by the Very Rev. Robert P. Bucciarelli ’56, after which Lt. Col. Leo R. McGonagle, the host of the day’s ceremony, gave his opening remarks, providing a brief synopsis of the history of the military at Harvard, beginning in 1775 when the University allowed Gen. George Washington to billet his troops within its walls.
President Lawrence H. Summers took the stage for the fifth year in a row, the only Harvard president in recent memory to speak at the ROTC Commissioning Ceremony. After thanking the cadets for “their service these past four years and their service to our country going forward,” he recalled his own swearing-in as secretary of treasury under President Clinton as one of “most moving moments of my professional life.”
“I thought there wasn’t anything more important that someone could do than to serve their country … so I admire your courage, your devotion as citizens in joining our armed forces at this crucial moment,” he added. Speaking of the University’s sometimes uneasy relationship with ROTC, he said that more could be done “because whatever you think about policy issues … I believe our country is most important, and I believe our country is best served when great universities like this one stand with those who defend the freedom that makes it possible for us to do all the wonderful things that we are able to do here.” Summers also expressed a wish: “I look forward to the day when it is common and doesn’t draw remark when an Ivy League president attends an ROTC commissioning ceremony.”
Speaking directly to the newly commissioned officers, Summers said, “America is strong because it is free; America is free because it is strong. And it is strong because of the service of wonderful individuals like those we commission today.”
The president was presented with several honors for his longtime support of the ROTC, including one from the Department of Defense. He called the awards “quite unwarranted” because “truly, the honor has been mine.”
The next speaker, Col. (Ret.) Kenneth G. Swan, noted that while 15 percent of his graduating class of 1956 were members of ROTC, this year only one-half of 1 percent of the College’s graduating class stood onstage to receive their commissions. “Your Harvard education will be difficult to conceal,” he said. But since chance favors the prepared mind, he added, the new officers must be prepared to “share that education with all those under your command” as well as “tactfully” sharing it with superiors when necessary.
Though technically the cadets had already been sworn in privately, the ceremonial oath of office then took place, with the cadets’ families coming onstage to pin their new ranks onto their uniforms. Each new officer was saluted for the first time by an enlisted man and, as tradition has it, bestowed on him a silver dollar, which obligates the enlisted man to follow the career of the cadet he saluted. Cheers ensued for each of the cadets in turn: 2nd Lt. James T. Dowell, 2nd Lt. Rachel R. Sarvis, and 2nd Lt. Brandon M. Trama for the United States Army; 2nd Lt. Peter H. Brooks for the U.S. Marine Corps; and Ensigns Catherine A. Cohn, William W. Craig, Joseph S. Payne, Andrew M. Salamon, and Charles W. Schellhorn Jr. for the United States Navy.
Before the conclusion of the ceremony, a special award was given to David Clayman ’38 for being “instrumental to the success of ROTC at Harvard.” Since 1995, Clayman, 89, has been waging a campaign to bring the organization back on campus, and as chairman of Advocates for Harvard ROTC, he doubled participation in the program.