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Notre Dame’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) class of 2020 may have dreamed of a commissioning ceremony with bells, a band, full-dress uniforms and their loved ones in attendance, but they probably never imagined the creative way it would play out due to COVID-19 and social distancing.
The May 16 ceremony still included the customary bells, band and fancy uniforms; however, the band, speakers and guests attended virtually from all across the country.
Adm. Christopher W. Grady, U.S. Fleet Forces commander and a 1984 graduate of Notre Dame, was the keynote speaker and administered the oath of office to 52 new military officers—27 Navy, 16 Army, six Air Force and three Marines—over a live video feed.
“These are indeed unique circumstances. This once-in-a-century challenge is fundamentally changing how we do nearly everything in our lives, and this ceremony is no different. A few short months ago, we couldn’t imagine carrying out an important event like this in such a way,” said Grady, a senior mentor and Notre Dame’s first and only four-star military officer in the school’s history. “I am grateful, however, that we are commissioning our newest ensigns and second lieutenants into the finest military force the world has ever known in the distinguished manner such an achievement deserves.”
The Notre Dame ROTC programs require a focus on academics, leadership, physical fitness, and community involvement. Academic excellence, in the pursuit of a bachelor’s degree, is paramount to the success of each midshipman and cadet.
In response to COVID-19, the university modified both the academic and ROTC processes to include holding online classes, meeting frequently over video chat and requiring personal physical training twice a week to ensure they met all requirements for commissioning.
“The team here at Notre Dame has worked really hard to ensure that the cadets and midshipmen get to experience, as close as possible, the ceremony they have earned in spite of the current restrictions,” said Lt. Austin Chung, assistant professor of naval science and 1st Class Midshipmen advisor.
Despite the unique circumstances they faced during these trying times, the Notre Dame ROTC class of 2020 understands the importance of the milestone they’ve reached.
“We have learned that the U.S. military must never rest, and that we all must be ready to answer the call,” said Ensign Michael Terranova, who will serve as a submarine officer. “For this reason, it is important to commemorate our military commissioning, especially during this time of pandemic. We should celebrate the work we have done, and remind ourselves, the country, and the world that, even now, we are ready to serve and protect our nation.”
While earning a commission during a pandemic wasn’t what anyone expected, it has taught Ensign Brian Lee the importance of persevering through the unknown.
“I think that my number one takeaway will be the idea of "bend don't break,’’’ said Lee. “The world is faced with a scenario most of us probably had never considered, but even though things have been turned upside down, people found solutions, and are making the best of it. Throughout our military careers I'm sure there'll be tough times and difficult situations, but if we can remember to be flexible, and work the problem, we'll find our way through.”
As these newly commissioned officers prepare to join the fighting forces, they were honored to have Grady as their keynote speaker, as he has served as the unit’s Flag officer mentor.
“Even though we can't all be together in person, it really means a lot to me that Adm. Grady … would help us celebrate the occasion,” said Lee, who will train to become a naval flight officer. “To me, it's another example of the tight-knit Navy family, willing to go out of the way to help each other out. The added benefit of him being a Notre Dame grad is that he is an example of something to strive for. For my classmates and me to share a similar background with him, it makes it a lot easier to see that we can be successful in our careers as well.”
As the newly commissioned officers move on to their next assignment or training pipeline, Grady thanked the Notre Dame ROTC Class of 2020 for all their hard work and willingness to serve.
“You’ve worked hard to earn your commission, and you’ve demonstrated your full commitment to this honorable and vital profession, the profession of arms,” said Grady. “Through these experiences, you’ve proven that you have the necessary character and competence to serve as an officer worthy of our nation’s special trust and confidence. I admire and very much respect your willingness to serve. Every one of you could have chosen another, less dangerous path, but instead you chose a life of service. You chose a life of sacrifice. And so, today, you join the ranks of those whose mission is to preserve freedom for the other 99% – an act I believe is the truest measure of what it means to be a citizen.”
Military ROTC Programs are hosted at colleges and universities across the country. While each service’s programs differ, they all provide undergraduate educations concurrently with training midshipmen and cadets in preparation for commissions as ensigns or 2nd lieutenants in the United States Armed Forces—more than 1,400 will earn their commission this year.