Michael G. Vickers, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict, and interdependent capabilities, congratulates Olivia Volkoff ’10 during the ROTC commissioning ceremony.

Kris Snibbe/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

From Ivy to military

4 min read

Harvard’s newest commissioned officers take the stage

On the eve of their graduation from Harvard College, 11 of the military’s newest officers received their commissions at a ceremony today (May 26) in crowded, sun-splashed Tercentenary Theatre.

Honored from the Class of 2010 were David F. Boswell, Josue Guerra, Sarah A. Harvey, and Karl J. Kmiecik (U.S. Army second lieutenants); Talya Havice and Shawna L. Sinnott (U.S. Marine Corps second lieutenants); and Joshua D. Foote, Michael B. Kaehler, Christi E. Morrissey, Katherine E. O’Donnell, and Olivia Volkoff (U.S. Navy ensigns).

A 10th student, Alex Prado, will receive his U.S. Army commission this summer. He graduates Thursday (May 27) with a master’s degree in public policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Administering their oaths was Michael G. Vickers, U.S. assistant secretary of defense for special operations, low-intensity conflict, and interdependent capabilities. During the 1980s, he masterminded the Central Intelligence Agency’s arming of the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan, a step that many say spelled doom for invading Soviet troops.

Vickers thanked the parents of the new officers for instilling in them “honor, courage, respect, and selfless service.”

He called the dozen students arrayed on stage “the very best our nation has to offer,” praising them for volunteering in a time of war. “You have elected to forgo a more comfortable life,” said Vickers, a Special Forces soldier from 1973 to 1986, “and with eyes wide open have courageously and selflessly offered to put yourselves in harm’s way on behalf of your fellow citizens.”

He warned them too, saying that the hardest challenges are still ahead, and that to surmount those obstacles they would do well to listen to the combat-seasoned soldiers under their command.

Former interim U.S. Sen. Paul G. Kirk Jr. ’60, J.D. ’64, a Boston lawyer and veteran — as well as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) graduate at Harvard — offered more words of praise and advice.

“You were the first in your class to answer a fundamental question,” he said of the new officers, not “What shall I do with my Harvard degree? No, your question was more profound. You asked yourselves … what shall I do with my citizenship?”

Kirk added, “A Harvard College education also teaches us to remember always our responsibilities as American citizens.”

He praised the students for volunteering. “In doing so, you bring honor to yourselves and to your families. You bring honor to your classmates and to this University, and — not least — you have honored your country.”

Kirk was an aide to U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy during his presidential run in 1968, served as chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and most recently filled a Senate seat following the death of Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy of Massachusetts.

Harvard President Drew Faust, herself the daughter of a decorated World War II veteran, was also on hand, as she always is during ceremonies honoring the University’s links to the military.

“Take what Harvard has given you,” she told the new officers, praising them for their fitness, intellect, and courage. “Generate a new surge of ideas to use in the nation’s service. Help reinforce the long tradition of ties between Harvard and the military, as we share hopes that changing circumstances will soon enable us to further strengthen those bonds.”

Student cadets and midshipmen drill and study with units at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This year, Harvard has 20 undergraduates enrolled in ROTC.

A pioneering former ROTC member took a bow at the ceremony, Charles “Chuck” DePriest ’77. He cross-enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, opening a new route — after much University debate — to such training. A radiologist, DePriest spent 10 years on active duty with the U.S. Air Force and retired as a major. With him was Oscar “Butch” DePriest ’74, who took his ROTC commission while in dental school at Boston University. He is a brigadier general in the U.S. Army Reserves.

The brothers are great-grandsons of Chicago Republican Oscar Stanton De Priest (1871-1951), the son of former slaves who was the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century.

Just before the ceremony, David Boswell ’10 stood waiting, his uniformed shoulders bare of insignia. Behind him was a boyhood in the Solomon Islands, where he scoured the jungles for World War II artifacts. Ahead is a career as an officer in the Army Medical Service Corps, where he will train as a medical evacuation helicopter pilot.

Is ROTC the end of a long adventure? “Yes,” said Boswell, “and the beginning of another long adventure.”