The Echoes of History

Peter Salovey, President of Yale University
April 30, 2015
ROTC President's Review

Thank you so much, Captain Kemper. I am so grateful to you for your leadership of Yale’s Naval ROTC unit, and to Colonel Haun, commander of our Air Force ROTC unit. And a special thanks to our university chaplain, Sharon Kugler, for that inspiring invocation.

Welcome to all of you gathered here on this historic day, a historic day for the university and for ROTC.

I am delighted that today we join with our neighbor universities to honor the hard work and dedication of our ROTC students. Welcome to midshipmen and cadets, faculty, students, and leaders from:

  • Fairfield University, represented by President Jeffrey von Arx
  • Quinnipiac University, represented by Provost Mark Thompson and Director of Veteran and Military Affairs Jason Burke
  • Sacred Heart University
  • Southern Connecticut State University, represented by Vice President Tracy Tyree and Veterans Services Director Jack Mordente
  • The University of New Haven
  • Wesleyan University, represented by Vice President Antonio Farias
  • Western Connecticut State University

And colleagues with us here from Yale: Provost Ben Polak, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway, and Deputy Dean Joseph Gordon.

In a few moments I will have the honor and pleasure of assisting at the presentation of awards to a number of deserving student cadets and midshipmen.

Usually when I speak at events of this magnitude, the assembled guests and the participants are seated. I am mindful, though, that our honorees today—the fine young men and women that you see behind me—are standing. So I will try to keep these remarks brief!

But I do want to take a moment to speak about the history that makes this a milestone day for our university community.

As many of you know, 2012 marked the return of the Reserve Officers Training Corps to Yale after more than four decades. The 34 Air Force cadets and 41 Navy midshipmen currently participating in Yale’s ROTC program are carrying forward a proud tradition of members of our community who have felt—and answered—the call to duty.

  • Throughout the university’s history, Yale has had a proud tradition of involvement in—and ties to—military service. To cite just a few examples:
  • Nathan Hale, whose sacrifice for his country in the Revolutionary War is memorialized in a statue on Old Campus.
  • Uriah Parmelee, a member of the class of 1863 who was killed in the final days of the Civil War.
  • The forefathers of Yale’s ROTC program, David Ingalls and Robert Lovett—classes of 1918 and 1920 respectively—whose Yale Flying Club was the first naval air reserve unit on campus.
  • The nearly 30,000 Yalies who served in the first and second world wars, Korea, and the Vietnam conflict.
  • And servicemen and -women on up to the present, including those you see all around us today.

The spirit of sacrifice that links these military men and women is a hallmark of the spirit of Yale itself. It is the desire to serve—to look beyond self-interest and to the greater good, and to the security and prosperity of generations to come. This is what characterizes this university and, indeed, it describes everyone who is being honored today.

I am deeply grateful that they—that you, the cadets and midshipmen of our ROTC programs, and the active military members and veterans gathered here with us—have given of yourselves to make the world a better place. You strengthen the fabric of our university community, and of our country, and around the globe.

I am proud to lead a university that is committed to welcoming and supporting those who serve. This commitment is as strong today as it was in 1943, when four of the residential colleges—Branford, Davenport, Pierson, and Saybrook—opened their doors to more than 1,000 members of the Navy’s V-12 college training program.

From the Warrior-Scholar Project; to the Yale Veterans Network comprising faculty, students, and staff; to the Yale Veterans Association alumni organization; to—of course—the ROTC itself—here on our campus today we can feel the thriving presence of that spirit of service that has been centuries in the making.

In the words of Major General Robert M. Danford, who led Yale ROTC at its inception in 1917, the program has a “history replete with the very best and most inspiring traditions…. It is a history of loyal service and sacrifice that, as time goes by, will become one of the many priceless heritages of future generations” at Yale.

Today we honor that heritage with the return to campus of a ceremony that, until the 1960s, was an annual university tradition. The awards we are about to present, and the formal review that will follow, celebrate the commitment demonstrated by our current ROTC students and reflect the legacy of those who came before them.

Perhaps later today, or at some point tomorrow or in the weeks to come, many of you gathered here will walk through the university’s Woolsey Hall. As you pass through the memorial rotunda, I hope you will take a moment to notice the names carved there. They represent some of the wartime sacrifices of our community—the Yale alumni who lost their lives in combat from the American Revolution through Vietnam. (You may have heard that Maya Lin, the Yale alumna who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., has cited Woolsey Hall as the inspiration for that project.)

Within those walls, you can hear the echoes of history, of love of country, of dedication, of humility, and of humanity—echoes that ring out loudly all around us here today.

Thank you very much for joining us today, and congratulations!