Photos by Lindsay France/University Photography

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We often see students walking across campus in military uniforms, on their way to Reserve Officer Training Corps classes. It is a requirement, following the provision of the Morrill Land-Grant act, that the university curriculum include military training. But for a few seniors, it’s also a sign of commitment to a military career.

Early on Saturday morning of Commencement weekend, even before they received their Cornell degrees, 10 ROTC cadets were formally commissioned as 2nd lieutenants and ensigns in the Army, Navy and Air Force, before an enthusiastic audience of friends and relatives in Statler Auditorium May 23.

After a moving performance of the national anthem by Talyse Hampton, assistant director of undergraduate admissions, an opening address by retired Air Force General Charles F. Wald warned the graduates that the future of the military would be different, with new technology – Internet in the cockpit! – and a mission spread far around he world. In an improvised prayer, Navy Lt. Justin Caesar, who acted as master of ceremonies, asked that the new officers be given “courage, leadership, guidance… and fortitude.”

Photos by Lindsay France/University Photography

From there, the ceremony focused on individuals. Cadets came on stage one by one to take the oath of office, led by the commanders of their respective ROTC units. Technically, at the moment they finish the oath they become officers. Parents and siblings accompany them onstage to pin on their insignia – often with a bit of fumbling and giggling.

Then each new officer receives a first salute from an enlisted member of the armed forces. Cadets choose the person who will receive that salute, often a member of ROTC staff but in many cases an older relative with prior military service. Often that moment was emotional, followed by hugging. A marine sergeant accompanied his sharp salute with a brisk “Good morning, sir!” audible in the balcony. It is tradition that a new officer presents a silver dollar to the first enlisted person who salutes; that was exchanged unobtrusively in a handshake.

In the oath, candidates promise to “support and defend the Constitution.” As one officer pointed out, in every other country in the world the oath is to a person or organization. Only in the United States, he said, is it to the nation.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.