Graduates from Princeton's ROTC program stand together

After Princeton graduation, ROTC students are commissioned as U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy officers

June 5, 2019 3:45 p.m.

Nine graduates from the Princeton Class of 2019 were commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army, Air Force or Navy on June 4. They are (left to right): Mikayla Blaska, Christian Kazanowski, Ian Kim, Samuel Schultz, Paul Spiegl, P.J. Greenbaum, Olivia Rhodes, John Whelan and Alexander Hsia.

Nine members of Princeton’s Class of 2019 became commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy on June 4 during a ceremony led by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a Class of 1980 graduate who himself was commissioned through Princeton’s ROTC program nearly 40 years ago.

The ROTC Commissioning was held in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall a few hours after Princeton’s Commencement. For the first time since 1972, Princeton hosted a tri-service ceremony that commissioned new officers who emerged from Army, Air Force and Navy ROTC programs. This year also marks the 100thyear since the establishment of Princeton’s Army ROTC Tiger Battalion in 1919.

General Milley speaking at podium

The ROTC Commissioning in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall featured an address by U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. Milley is a Princeton Class of 1980 graduate and he was commissioned as a military officer in the same room nearly 40 years ago.

Five students were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, three were commissioned as ensigns in the U.S. Navy and one was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. The group represented a variety of majors, such as classics, Near Eastern studies, psychology, and civil and environmental engineering, as well as activities, such as varsity athletics, band, debate and slam poetry.

Milley, who is nominated to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, thanked the graduates for choosing to use their education and talents in service of others. He said the students spoke 17 languages and that all nine had been high school valedictorians or salutatorians. 

“This is an incredibly talented group of nine,” he said. “[They are] high-quality individuals who have volunteered to serve their country. I can tell you the Army, Navy and Air Force are going to be so much better for your service to our nation.”

Milley also recognized President Christopher L. Eisgruber’s tremendous support of America’s armed services at Princeton. 

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Gen. Milley and Lt. Col. Courtney Jones, director of the Army Officer Education Program for Princeton’s Army ROTC Tiger Battalion

Blaska holds her commissioning certificate after receiving congratulations from (left to right) Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber, Gen. Milley and Lt. Col. Courtney Jones, director of the Army Officer Education Program for Princeton’s Army ROTC Tiger Battalion.

Princeton re-established its Navy ROTC program in 2014 after a 43-year absence from campus, and recently reinstated a transfer program aimed at admitting more veterans, community college and low-income students. The number of first-year students participating in ROTC has also grown since 2013. 

In his remarks, Eisgruber called the commissioning ceremony a “proud and historic occasion.”

“A commitment to the United States armed forces exemplifies one meaningful and profoundly demanding way to use one’s education, as this University asks all its graduates to do, ‘in the nation’s service and the service of humanity,’” he said.

Hsia and family

Hsia’s family helps pin ranks onto his uniform during the ROTC Commissioning ceremony. Hsia will serve as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force as a pilot trainee at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. This year was the first time since 1972 that Princeton hosted a tri-service ceremony that commissioned new officers who emerged from Army, Air Force and Navy ROTC programs.

Speaking directly to the students, he added: “This University takes great pride in you and in what you have accomplished. We are proud of your learning. We are proud of your courage. We are proud of your commitment to service, to the American Constitution and to the United States Armed Forces.”

After taking the oath of office, the newly commissioned officers received their ranking pins and performed the traditional Silver Dollar Salute.

The ceremony was attended by families and friends, University administrators and military representatives, including Adm. Michael Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Charles and Marie Robertson Visiting Professor at Princeton.

Spiegl and family

Spiegl (second from right) stands proudly with his mother, Denise, and brothers, Jarrett (far left) and Sterling (second from left), who are also cadets with Princeton’s Army ROTC.

The afternoon was particularly poignant for students’ parents, who pinned ranks onto their son or daughter’s uniform as they wiped tears from their eyes. Paul Spiegl, who hopes to serve in the Army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team in Italy, was pinned by his mother and brothers. His brothers, Jarrett and Sterling Spiegl, are members of Princeton’s Class of 2021 and Army ROTC cadets. Olivia Rhodes, who will serve on the U.S.S. Stout in Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, was proudly pinned by her parents wearing their Navy uniforms. 

In concluding his address, Eisgruber praised the students’ dual accomplishments of graduating from Princeton and receiving military commissions.

“You carry forward the aspirations of our alma mater, and I am pleased to extend to you, on behalf of Princeton University, my best wishes for the future and my most heartfelt congratulations,” he said. 

Commencement 2019