The ROTC cadets really stand out in their uniforms. Eight Navy candidates ate dinner in Davenport on Friday. Their whites contrasted with the dining hall’s oak paneling. You simply had to notice them.
There are not many cadets on campus, but their distinctiveness makes their presence known. That’s a good thing. They give the rest of us some much-needed perspective.
Advocates for ROTC’s return to Yale focused on two groups that would benefit from the program’s return: the cadets and the military. Students interested in service no longer need to commute to other campuses, a grueling burden on top of a selfless commitment. And the military will certainly be better off with Yale-educated officers.
Less recognized is the positive effect the cadets’ presence has on us, their peers.
I have written in these pages before about how athletes — at their ideal — represent stores of character. They remind us that, in a world of “me, me, me,” there are some who sacrifice self for a team. The soccer player who practices but barely sees the field stands in stark contrast to the resumé-padders and self-promoters — the rest of us. And, yes, I’m talking about athletes at their best, which is often different from what we see on campus.
The ROTC candidates embody that ideal of selflessness — and more. Cadets have chosen to live a different Yale experience, one that involves more work and less play. They subject themselves to personal discipline and extra course work, limiting their potential extracurriculars and God knows what else. I am in awe of their commitment.
A little anecdote too cutely illustrates my point: I planned on attending the ROTC ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning. Well, one too many drinks Thursday night … and I was reluctant to leave bed come sunup. I slept in, missing the event. Cadets certainly couldn’t have made that choice, on Friday or any other time.
But those resplendent ROTC candidates in Davenport represent something more than mere selflessness — they stand for service to this country.
We constantly hear about Yale becoming a global university. The percentage of international students keeps rising. In the process, we have all but abandoned Yale’s role of providing future leaders for these United States. It’s déclassé to suggest that American values exist, let alone that we — as a university — should uphold those values. We no longer send graduates to the CIA and the State Department in droves. Instead, we mint investment bankers and consultants and global citizens, whatever that means. And the country suffers when her most promising, most talented, most educated desert her.
Cadets are different. In their first moments on campus, they took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic … to bear true faith and allegiance to the same.” Those words give me chills. They tap back into a Yale tradition of public service. Not the Teach for America kind. Not the “I work for a sexy NGO” kind. Their oath stands for service to the nation — the kind of service that sometimes demands Lincoln’s last full measure of devotion.
I’m humbled by the two ROTC programs and their cadets. It is easy for me to take to these pages and criticize members this community for their disdain of America. It is much harder to walk the walk, as a score of young Yalies has.
All I can say to them is “Thank you.”
Nathaniel Zelinsky is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.