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ROTC Presidential Awards Ceremony

“Developing Multi-faceted Leadership”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC Concert Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Good morning. Thank you for joining us for the Presidential Joint Service Awards Ceremony. I especially welcome the midshipmen, cadets, and guests of the New York Capital Region Naval, Army, and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps programs. To the cadets and midshipmen from our neighboring colleges and universities—we are delighted to have you and your guests with us.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, we are keenly focused on developing the next generation of leaders. Our world faces critical challenges. You read about them, hear about them, and see them—every day. To address these challenges, we need a cadre of young men and women who are rigorously prepared within their own areas of expertise—but at the same time, able to guide people with capabilities in many other disciplines.

I can think of no better examples of such multi-faceted leadership than the men and women who have participated in the ROTC.

This program, the ROTC program, began at Rensselaer in 1941, when, three months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the naval unit was commissioned.

In 1947, the Army unit began, with an affiliation with the Corps of Engineers, Transportation Corps, and Signal Corps.

In 1949, the Air Force detachment was added. Today, it serves as the “host” unit for cadets at 22 regional colleges and universities.

Of course, the association of Rensselaer with the U.S. military stretches back even further. From the production of the U.S.S. Monitor, an ironclad Civil War steamship with a revolving turret, that revolutionized the design of naval vessels—to the design of the B-58 bomber, the world’s first long-range supersonic aircraft—the people of Rensselaer have contributed to this nation’s defense throughout our history.

Many of our alumni and alumnae have served our country with distinction—as have the alumni and alumnae of the other colleges and universities represented here.

Rensselaer is very proud of past President George M. Low, Rensselaer Class of 1948, who served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and directed the NASA Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo space programs; and we are proud of astronaut Jack Swigert, Rensselaer Class of 1965, who served in the U.S. Air Force, and was the command pilot who successfully guided the ill-fated Apollo 13 module back to earth.

Thousands of Rensselaer graduates have had distinguished careers in the United States Armed Forces, including 76 naval officers of flag rank. We are honored to have one of them as a member of our Board of Trustees: United States Admiral, Retired, Ronald J. “Zap” Zlatoper, Rensselaer Class of 1963, former Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet—the world’s largest naval command.

These individuals are among the many models of achievement who will inspire you as you take on the challenges of service in a changing world.

Over the course of your military career, you surely will face uncertainty and change. Currently, our military is in a drawdown, and there is discussion of what its role will be after more than a decade of active engagement abroad. The tools of defense are being transformed, as robotics, Big Data and data analytics, and nanotechnology augment our ability to monitor and deter threats. As well, strategies, alliances, and political requirements are in flux.

More and more, our military will be called upon to anticipate change—in a world where technical progress, constraints on resources, and shifts in power will require preparedness and quick responses.

As a new generation of leaders, I know you will face these challenges with commitment, creativity, integrity… and heart. Among those here today are students who have participated in the Rensselaer Relay for Life, the Capital Region Rescue Mission, and many outreach activities with children in the Troy and larger community. The Run for Kohl, held in September of last year, raised funds for the Wounded Warrior Project in honor of Rensselaer alumnus Lieutenant Jonathan (Jon) Kohl, Class of 2010, who was wounded in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

All of you have shown dedication, discipline, and determination—simultaneously accepting the responsibilities required for your preparation as officers, and the commitments your education demands.

The course of study here at Rensselaer is demanding, and it is designed to encourage leadership in every field of endeavor. The skills all Rensselaer students develop—in planning, problem-solving, decision-making, and execution—are essential in a military career.

We have designed an educational experience with special attention to the art of communication—in person, in all media, and enabled by immersive technologies of all kinds. Given the diverse cultures you will encounter in your military careers—and the proliferation of virtual interactions in the military—your ability to listen; to be clear and persuasive when you speak; and to inspire trust and to motivate others—even across great distances—will be crucial to your success.

Sacrifice is a necessary part of your commitment to service. We have examples among our alumni and alumnae of extraordinary valor, including that of U.S. Air Force Captain Carmen Lucci, Class of 1975. She was the first female ROTC cadet at Rensselaer—and she chose to take on the risks of becoming a flight test engineer. She lost her life in 1981, when her A-26 Invader aircraft crashed near Three Sisters Dry Lake, northeast of Edwards Air Force Base.

Two years ago, we dedicated a plaque honoring naval pilot Lieutenant Miroslav “Steven” Zilberman, Rensselaer Class of 2003. You may have seen the plaque in the ROTC suite in the Alumni Sports & Recreation Center. While returning from a mission in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Zilberman lost an engine over the Arabian Sea. He ordered his crewmates, including the co-pilot, to bail out. He saved their lives by fighting to hold his plane steady until all had jumped to safety. His plane then crashed into the sea, and, Lt. Zilberman perished. For his heroism, Lt. Zilberman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross posthumously.

We hope that each of you develops the courage of Captain Lucci and Lieutenant Zilberman. We also fervently hope that you always remain safe. However, sacrifice in some form is undeniably a part of military service.

Both my husband and my father served in the military, so I am well aware that you are called upon to put duty first. Duty may take precedence over time you would like to share with friends. You may miss special occasions with your families—birthdays, anniversaries, a child’s concert or sporting event.

In return, you will gain the admiration and gratitude of the entire nation you serve. You will have experiences that will make you kinder, braver, and wiser people—experiences that will enrich every aspect of your lives and personal histories.

Today, we recognize your achievements, here, at the beginning of your careers.

All of you are being prepared for the opportunities and challenges that military life will present to you. The self-discipline, the intellectual agility, and the respect for others that you are developing, are preparing you, as well, for family life, for citizenship, and for active participation in the communities around you. You are learning not only to be effective team members and leaders—you also are learning to lead lives of fulfillment, empathy, and service to humanity.

Wherever you go and whatever you do, I am sure that you will be relied upon, by everyone you meet, for your judgment and steadfastness.

I am proud of the cadets and midshipmen at Rensselaer. I know that each of the colleges and universities represented here is equally proud of their ROTC graduates. I want to offer special congratulations to Midshipman Stephen A. Bennett of Rensselaer, who is being recognized with the prestigious Admiral James L. Holloway, Jr. Award as the most outstanding NROTC midshipman in the entire nation.

All of you who are recognized today for your achievements are outstanding, and I congratulate each of you. I know that we can, and will, count on your continued leadership and success.

Thank you.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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