The 25th of May

Into certain uncertainty


I have mixed feelings about the end of spring semester. As yet another academic year comes to an anticlimactic end, my sense of mortality is reaffirmed. No one has time for one another, and conversations become limited to two topics: final exams and summer plans. The former bores people at best (who on earth actually enjoys discussing finals?); the latter only serves to stress those who have yet to set their summer plans in stone.

Spring also brings about the sun’s return, creating the perfect atmosphere for perfect pictures, but also attracting yet another wave of tourists. Oddly enough, the beautiful weather almost serves to mock me. Here I sit, trapped inside Widener library as children play tag and enjoy ice cream in the Yard. No matter; one day they’ll discover responsibility and join me in my gloom.

However, no date in particular sums up my conflicted relationship with spring better than the 25th of May. On that day, three Harvard cadets will commission and enter the U.S. Army as Second Lieutenants. On the one hand, the thought of my friends commissioning contributes to a general sense of isolation; their graduation will reduce Harvard’s Army ROTC program to a mere three contracted cadets.

On the other hand, I couldn’t be prouder. Falletta, Clarke, and Perkins will make excellent Army officers. Their combination of discipline with understanding helped foster a training environment that focused on mentoring, rather than lecturing. More importantly, their sense of humor helped ease my former freshman self, reassuring me that I wasn’t the only odd one, to say the least.

My feelings extend to all the cadets in our battalion commissioning this May. They’re more than my fellow cadets; they’re some of my closest friends. Although the graduating class contributed to my marginalization as a communist (jokingly, of course), I’ve come to love their snarky sense of humor.

As our cadets prepare to commission in less than a month, I can’t help but feel a bit uneasy. Recent political headlines haven’t been the most comforting. The statements of some presidential candidates may seem funny to most at Harvard, but they’re disquieting to me. My friends may find themselves in the hands of a commander in chief, who, quite frankly, might very well instigate the next series of unnecessary wars.

In the dining hall, I sometimes overhear what other seniors will be doing post-Harvard. Some will earn mountains of cash. Others will advance knowledge as they spend their days working for think tanks or studying as part of a prestigious fellowship. Many will carry on their days as students in graduate school. A few will take time off to explore the world.

This year’s ROTC graduates could have enjoyed any of the aforementioned futures. They are among our nation’s best and brightest. Physically fit, mentally tenacious, and experienced leaders, the cadets graduating this May would have wanted for nothing had they chosen a different route. And yet here they are, confidently commissioning into the armed forces whilst our country’s political situation remains uncertain.

I won’t be present for Harvard’s commissioning ceremony on May 25th, or Wellesley’s, or Tufts's, or Salem State’s, or Endicott’s, or Gordon’s, or MIT’s. I won’t see any of my comrades get their butter bars this May. I won’t be there for the cheesy photos, the annoyingly small refreshments and snacks that accompany every formal event, or the unnecessarily long speeches. I won’t experience the tears, laughter, snarky remarks, or the streams of sweat as we sit for uncomfortably long periods of time in uniforms unsuited for humidity.

Instead, I’ll be stuck in some air-conditioned office, filing papers and taking phone calls to fulfill the stereotypical image of a college student intern spending his summer in D.C. To the cadets commissioning this May, I wish I could be there to salute you. I don’t know how the hell we’re going to run this battalion without you.

Very respectfully,

Your Resident Commie Cadet

Nathan L. Williams '18, a current Army ROTC cadet, is a government concentrator in Mather House. His column appears on alternate Wednesdays.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Harvard’s ROTC program, the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.