I’ve been busy for a few days. Two weeks ago my daughter became a college graduate, with honors. Then, yesterday she swore to “protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, both foreign and domestic.”
In so doing, she became a Second Lieutenant in the American Army. She had taken a similar oath once before, when she’d chosen the “Enlisted Track” to join our military. But, at that time she had sworn to obey all the orders of her commanding officer. This time, though, in becoming an officer, she swore to protect and defend the document that undergirds the greatest political and economic system humans have ever devised.
I was there to help her do it too. My daughter had named her brother and me as the ones to pin her shoulder boards on her, as my sister, her two beautiful children, and my daughter’s best friends, all looked on.
My daughter had only ten tickets to hand out. Her dad and brother, of course, got in by default. That left only eight tickets. She’d been a popular high school student, she was, and is, a beautiful young woman, with a smiling, gracious, friendly and approachable demeanor that nearly immediately puts all who meet her at ease. Trust me there were many many people who would have loved to have been there to encourage her in this important moment and, trust me, she agonized over how to dole out those precious eight tickets. My sister and her two beautiful children, as well as some longtime dear friends made the cut.
My little girl was a “Distinguished Military Graduate,” one of those in the top 20% of all military graduates in the entire country. As a result, she was in the first group to receive her boards in her unit. And my son and I were in the first group to do our bit too; to pin my daughter’s shoulder boards on her uniform.
I made a bit of a hash of it. Everyone does. It’s not easy, but everyone also gets through it, as did my son and I. We did it with an understanding that we were participating in something with real, deep, lasting meaning. Something that spanned centuries, as my daughter joined so many others who had in years past joined the Armed Forces to defend America. And, though we said no official words, my son and I, and my sister’s family and she, and my daughter’s friends who had all come to witness the moment with her… we all swore in our hearts to do everything in our power to support her.
The Lieutenant Colonel who’s the head of the ROTC at my daughter’s university gave a brief speech. It was an awkward speech; the Lieutenant Colonel is not a polished speaker. The LtCol then turned the podium over to the Brigadier General who gave the keynote address to the soon-to-be Second-Lieutenants and their families and friends. He was a physically small man of very large accomplishment, and he was a good speaker. He let us all know that this was a Very Big Moment, and that we all needed to understand and be aware of it.
Shortly after the official ceremony, I watched and recorded as a Staff Sergeant who was a professor, mentor and friend of my daughter’s, gravely delivered her first salute; a moment when it all becomes very real. It was the moment when a man who’s an accomplished soldier, an expert military tactician, my daughter’s military sciences professor, a man who had worked closely with her for years, to help hone, carve and groom her into a leader… acknowledged my daughter as his superior officer. I filmed nearly the entire proceedings, except, that is, for the shoulder board pinning part… and I recorded that First Salute.
There’s a gravity and a nobility in the entire ceremony, that clashed with my thousands and thousands of memories of my daughter, as the carefree, sweet, fun-loving, cheerful little girl who delighted and thrilled me so many thousands of times throughout her life. That seriousness of purpose remained, like heavy tendrils in the air, even as the newly-minted officers and their families laughed, smiled, congratulated, hugged in the sun-splashed courtyard of the university where it all took place.
All present knew very well that, though it was a joyous occasion, it was also a deeply significant one, a time stuffed to overflowing with meaning, a moment wrapped up in a history that contains incomprehensible acts of heroism and valor. A moment drenched in a sense of purpose that believes that “all men are created equal” in the eyes of God, and that all Americans ought to have the chance to know and to live that belief. Those new officers gathered there that day would bend their efforts to protect this land, the only place in the history of the world, to have acknowledged and enshrined the God-given preciousness of every man in its very founding documents.
The new officers were beautiful, majestic, resplendent, awe-inspiring in their dress uniforms. When you see these young people, you experience intense optimism for the future of this country.
Throughout her life, my daughter would cause me to experience small, involuntary gasps. She’d come around the corner, the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, and I’d gasp. She’d emerge sleepily from her room in the morning to prepare for school, all rumpled and sleepy-eyed, and I’d gasp. She’d sprint toward me and leap into my arms and I’d gasp. Never, I thought, had I ever seen anything as beautiful as my daughter! And every time I’ve ever seen her in her dress blues, I’ve gasped. She’s still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, only now her beauty has the added dimensions of nobility and courage.
You should have seen her yesterday, in her dress blues, with her new Second Lieutenant’s shoulder boards on.
My son is six years younger than my daughter, and he inspires all the very same feelings as she does. All the same feelings.
If you wanted to call me a lucky daddy, I wouldn’t argue with you.