PREMINGER: When duty calls, will Yale answer?

This past Tuesday, I attended the promotion ceremony of Lt. Col. Thomas Boccardi to the rank of colonel, United States Army. I know Tommy as a classmate in the Brady-Johnson Program in Grand Strategy, and through our discussions in the classroom on topics ranging from Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps to his own military experience, I discovered a man of honor and wisdom. Seeing Tommy, accompanied by his wife and three daughters, accept the silver eagle insignia from a former commanding officer served as a stark reminder of America’s greatness and its challenge for the years to come.

The presiding major general spoke of America’s backbone; Tommy and his comrades are that backbone. Devoting one’s life to the service of one’s nation embodies the spirit this country was founded upon and upon which its future is contingent. That devotion does not come without sacrifice — a sacrifice made not only by the soldiers in the field, but also by the families left behind and the priceless memories missed.

As a former soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces (staff sergeant, reserve), I feel a powerful connection to Tommy and the other service men and women who were present. In whatever positions we served, we have all seen and done things that escape words, only to be known by those who were there.

Our common bond is not one of nationality, religion or culture. It is a bond of duty, forged upon hearing the call of our nation, and answering that call. Both American and Israeli soldiers serve not because they want to, but because they are compelled to. For me, as, I’m sure, for many others, duty is not a conscious choice between doing and not doing. It the understanding that our world faces many challenges, and as members of the human race, we have an obligation to resolve them.

As Alexander Hamilton wrote, “the sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.” Even now, humanity’s struggle to be free of tyranny and oppression goes on, as countless masses protest in the squares of Moscow and die in the streets of Syria.

As members of the Yale community, we are endowed with the finest education in the world, but that must come with a price. I do not demonize those who seek high-paying jobs after college, yet we must ask ourselves the purpose of our time inside these hallowed halls of light and truth. We must ask ourselves: What does being a Yalie actually mean?

It is the great burden of our generation, perhaps of every generation, to pay for the mistakes of our ancestors. The problems of our world seem almost insurmountable, and yet we must look up to people like Marie Colvin ’78 and Nathan Hale 1773, who devoted their lives to freedom and paid the ultimate price. Yale’s tradition of duty still exists among those who choose to devote their lives to a cause greater than themselves, be it in the arts, sciences, education or any other field of endeavor which elevates the human condition. The world needs good people to solve the challenges of the coming decades, and Yale graduates count among the very best of our generation. If we do not devote our time in the service of greater goals, who will?

As Col. Boccardi and his family head to their next deployment, let us all wish them good luck and Godspeed and hope that their spirit of devotion, honor and duty will be a clarion call for our generation to enlist in the service of the world.

Benjamin Preminger is a junior in Pierson College. Contact him at benjamin.preminger@yale.edu.

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