As Gen. (Ret.) Colin L. Powell stood before 13 Northeastern University Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadets who were about to become 2nd lieutenants in the U.S. Army on Thursday evening, he expressed great pride in seeing the next generation of men and women take that courageous leap forward.
“Serving is important. Remember why you’re getting this commission in a few moments: service to this nation, service to the greatest ideals of this nation and, above all, service to the troops who will be entrusted to your care,” Powell said at the Liberty Battalion Army ROTC commission ceremony, held in Raytheon Amphitheater and attended by more than 150 people.
Powell told the cadets that the skills and discipline each of them would acquire in basic Army training will “make you a contributing leader in this country for the rest of your lives.” He recalled being inspired to join the ROTC while at City College of New York after seeing cadets march down a street in Harlem, and that the 35 years, 3 months and 21 days he would later serve in the U.S. Army — ultimately rising to the rank of four-star general — all served as learning experiences that “made me who I am.”
Powell then administered the commissioning oath to the cadets and thanked Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun for his support of Liberty Battalion. On Friday morning, Powell will address undergraduates as Northeastern’s commencement speaker at TD Garden.
After the students took the oath, family members pinned gold bars on the shoulders of the new 2nd lieutenants. The Northeastern University ROTC Alumni also presented them with an alumni pin, a copy of the Constitution and a Leatherman Wave multi-tool.
Soldato also presented Powell with a gift — a Liberty Battalion ROTC coin.
Northeastern University began its relationship with the U.S. Army in 1918, with the start of the Student Army Training Corps in response to World War I. In January 1951, the university officially formed an ROTC detachment in support of the Army Corps of Engineers and Signal Corps, and the first commissioned class graduated in 1955.
Northeastern Army ROTC has commissioned more than 3,800 cadets in the U.S. Army, U.S. Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. At one point, it was one of the largest nonmilitary campus programs in the nation, with about 2,800 cadets enrolled.
The ROTC program at Northeastern recently received a MacArthur Award for the 2010-11 academic year, a prestigious honor presented annually by the U.S. Army Cadet Command and the Gen. Douglas MacArthur Foundation that recognizes the ideals of “duty, honor and country” as advocated by MacArthur.
Northeastern has a longstanding commitment to America’s veterans and national security, exemplified by strong partnerships with the military, ROTC and the defense industry. Security is one of the university’s top research themes, along with health and sustainability.
After the commissioning ceremony, Powell raced to the John D. O’Bryant Institute to meet with approximately 75 African-American students from the class of 2012. Powell urged the students to focus first on their talents and abilities, not their race.
“I wasn’t the black secretary of state,” said Powell. “There wasn’t a white secretary of state down the hall. I was the secretary of state, who happened to be black.”