Fourteen members of Princeton’s Class of 2023 became commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force on May 30 during a ceremony led by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, a Class of 1980 graduate who himself was commissioned through Princeton’s ROTC program more than 40 years ago.
The ROTC Commissioning was held in the Faculty Room of Nassau Hall a few hours after Princeton’s Commencement. It was the first tri-service ceremony held at Princeton since 2019.
Seven students were commissioned as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army, three as ensigns in the U.S. Navy, three as second lieutenants in the U.S. Air Force and one as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps.
The group represented a variety of majors, including history, chemical and biological engineering, mechanical and aerospace engineering, electrical and computer engineering, computer science, and the School of Public and International Affairs, as well as activities such as varsity and club athletics, the Princeton Nassoons, Orange Key Tours, and Scholars in the Nations’ Service Initiative. One of the graduates is a Fulbright Scholar and another is a Schwarzman Scholar.
Princeton President Christopher L. Eisgruber took note of the historic site of the commissioning ceremony within Nassau Hall, which played an important role in the nation’s birth, telling the new officers, “You are worthy inheritors of the history and ideals that course through this building.”
“As a student of our country’s Constitution, I find myself inspired by a singular fact about this ceremony every time that I participate in it: each of you will make a solemn promise to defend the Constitution of this United States — not our land, not our wealth, not even our people, but our Constitution,” Eisgruber said. “That remarkable fusion of constitutional authority and military duty is an audacious invention of this nation’s founders. It depends on a radical idea critical to the American tradition: namely, that military strength and constitutional democracy can reinforce one another, rather than conflict, as they often did in the past and still do in much of the world.”
Princeton’s Army ROTC Tiger Battalion is the longest continuously running ROTC program in the United States, having been established in 1919.
Princeton re-established its Navy ROTC program in 2014 after a 41-year absence from campus, and also reinstated a transfer program in 2018 aimed at admitting more veterans, community college and low-income students. This University is in the midst of an expansion of its transfer program as part of an overall increase in the undergraduate student body, which will allow the University to admit more talented students from all backgrounds.
Milley said this year’s class represented a “banner year” for Princeton’s ROTC.
“I've come back and forth to Princeton to do the commissionings a couple of different times, and I don’t know of any class where everyone went 100% active duty,” Milley said. “You have incredible talent, and I can’t tell you how proud I am to bring you on to active duty.”
Milley commended the graduates on their many academic achievements, and he read aloud several of their senior thesis titles on topics including quantum cascade lasers, thermal sensor fusion and crystalizing proteins in plants.
The class includes the first female U.S. Marine to be commissioned from Princeton’s ROTC program and the first woman from Princeton’s Naval ROTC program to be selected for the Submarine Officer program. The program also graduated its first two submarine officers and its first Navy officer to be selected for the Navy Special Warfare (SEAL) program since the Princeton Naval ROTC program was re-established.
Milley spoke to the new officers of a fundamental change happening in the character of war that is being driven by technology, particularly by AI and robotics. He said the United States must be the country that masters these technologies and their combined use in order to prevent global warfare.
“Your task is to make us, the military, better every day,” he said. “The challenge is there for you, each and every one of you. You’re more than up to the challenge. You’re brilliant group of people. … Even though your numbers are relatively small — 14 — there's little doubt in my mind that each of you are going to make a major contribution.”
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 Erica Jeffries Purdo, civilian aide to the Secretary of the Army for New Jersey, and Robert Maguire, an emeritus civilian aide.
The afternoon was especially meaningful for the graduates’ parents, who pinned ranks onto their children’s uniforms. Five of the officers were pinned by members of their family who are in the military. Abigail McRea, whose grandfather was among the first British troops to arrive at Sword Beach on D-Day in 1944, was pinned by family members including her father, retired Royal Air Force Cpl. Steve McRea. Enjolique Hughes was pinned by her mother, Staff Sgt. Michelle Hughes, and Brendan McManamon was pinned by family including his father, retired Rear Adm. James McManamon.