The ROTC commissioning ceremony began in a quietly festive mood in the roped-off area around the statue of John Harvard that sits before University Hall. There, 11 young men and women of the graduating class of 2007 took their oaths privately for the service of their choice — Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines — before moving on to a stage in the Yard’s Tercentenary Theatre for the public ceremony. Before and after the cadets took center stage, the vicinity buzzed with an almost partylike atmosphere.
Families and friends greeted one another with laughter and hugs at the June 6th ceremony as tourists scampered under the waist-high barricade to have their photos taken gingerly grasping the statue’s bronze foot. A group of Scottish schoolgirls on holiday giggled and blushed, chatting with several handsome young men in uniform and eventually squeezing between two of them for a group shot. When asked if they often get the chance to meet American military men, their teacher, John “Dunnie” Dunlop replied, “Not as often as the girls would like.”
Capt. David Gowel, assistant professor of military science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the master of ceremonies for the day’s events, meantime, appraised the beefy biceps on a young passerby who had stopped to ask about military service. “You look like you got some guns on you,” he said. “You got some wheels, too?” He began extolling the athletic benefits of joining the service.
You can hardly blame Gowel for seeking converts. These are times when joining the ROTC can be a challenging path for an Ivy League student. But its benefits can be great, as well, judging by the proud smiles on the faces of the students and their families alike as they spoke of the futures mapped out before them.
Erik Sand, for example, has received his degree in history and will be commissioned as a surface warfare officer (nuclear option). In August he’ll report to the USS John S. McCain in Yukosuka, Japan.
Erika Helbling, who graduated with a degree in economics as an ensign in the Navy, will be reporting to Pearl Harbor in July to meet her ship, the USS Chosin, along with classmate Meredith Sandberg, a human evolutionary biology major. “It makes it a little bit less scary to be going to the same ship as Erika,” Sandberg said. “We’ll be a little team.”
Ensign Donald Coates, meantime, plans to be an astronaut — a dream he has had since the age of 4. “It kept him really focused in school,” said his father, Ted Coates. Coates, who is leaving Harvard with a degree in mechanical engineering, will be traveling to Pensacola, Fla., for flight school in September in the first of many “small steps” toward his goal.
“This wouldn’t have been my first choice,” said the elder Coates of his son’s choice to enter the military. “But I’m proud that he’s achieved what he wanted to. He had to get up at 7 a.m. to take the train down to MIT while his roommates were still sleeping.”
The larger ceremony began an hour after the individual oaths were taken in the Yard. After the national anthem was played and the invocation delivered — by Chaplain Alexander S. Daley, Class of ’57, who was commissioned on the same stage 50 years ago — remarks were delivered by Stephen Rosen, the Beton Michael Kaneb Professor of National Security and Military Affairs.
The 11 candidates present — Jukay Hsu didn’t attend the ceremony because he finished his academic program in April and so received his Army commission earlier than his classmates — then stood to take their oath, vowing to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Cheers went up for each candidate in turn, including Robert Huefner, now a second lieutenant in the Army; 2nd Lt. John Cancian of the Marine Corps; 2nd Lt. Lauren L. Brown of the Air Force; and Navy ensigns Patrick Morrissey, Jonathan Sieg, Danielle Thiriot, and Aaron Woodside.
The new officers were then called up individually to receive commissioning certificates from their ROTC department heads — and to receive their first salute.