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.

[media-​​credit id=23 align=“alignright” width=“354”][/media-credit]Lt. Col. Gary M. Soldato, who com­mands Lib­erty Bat­talion and is a pro­fessor of mil­i­tary sci­ence, lauded the newly minted offi­cers’ hard work and ded­i­ca­tion. “Not every­body can do what you are about to embark upon,” he said. “That’s why you must earn those gold bars, like you have today.”

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.”