WILLIAMSBURG— The cadets milled around the auditorium in the Sadler Center on the College of William and Mary's campus. In minutes they would become commissioned Army officers, in months most would report to training, and within a year many would be leading other men and women – some into battle.
But before the ceremony, they were still civilian college students.
"It is kind of nerve-wracking. We are going from being students and cadets to being leaders and leading soldiers," said Jordan Cirenza, 22.
Eighteen cadets received their commissioning Friday afternoon, most joined onstage by parents and siblings who pinned the lieutenant's bars to their shoulders.
William and Mary President W. Taylor Reveley III, William and Mary Chancellor and alumnus Robert Gates, who served as Secretary of Defense from 2006 to 2011, deputy chief of staff for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Major General Rex A. Spitler, and Lt. Col. James M. Kimbrough IV, chair of the university's Department of Military Science oversaw the ceremony.
Gates reminded the students the school's history is entwined with military service, as William and Mary students served in both the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
"William and Mary students have been patriots and soldiers since before the United States existed," Gates said.
And Spitler offered the students practical pieces of advice for their impending military careers including: "Don't be afraid to volunteer; Don't tell me all that you know, tell me what I need to know; and Be able to explain how what you are doing fits into the big picture."
Before the ceremony, several cadets described the chief challenge facing graduates of ROTC: students with no real battlefield experience are trained in leadership and then commissioned as officers and put in charge of more seasoned soldiers.
"I have to go in with the attitude that I don't know everything, but I'm going to learn. But at the end of the day I will have to make the final decision," Cirenza said.
Trever Johnson of Hampton, 21, said his ROTC studies focused on leadership decisions made by other military leaders. The mistakes made by other leaders provide particularly useful lessons, said Johnson, who will be entering the infantry in February.
Chris Scherich, 32, is a non-commissioned officer who trains cadets at William and Mary and Christopher Newport University. He said the complexity of military leadership can't be fully taught in the classroom, but the instructors do their best to prepare students for the challenges they will face.
"The biggest challenge is bridging the gap between knowing what a problem is and knowing how to deal with it and being able to adapt," he said. "That's the ultimate end state for these guys. And you can't really teach that; you have to condition for it."
Some of the family members were surprised when they reflected on the accomplishments of their son or daughter.
"My daughter is going to fly Apache helicopters, but (when she was young) she ran around in tutus," said Julie Caverly, 59. "I was known as the mom of the girl with tutus."
Caverly said her husband had been a Green Beret in Vietnam and his influence must have rubbed off on their daughter at some point.
"It was a bit of a shock when she applied for an ROTC scholarship," Caverly said. "But we are very, very, very proud of her."
McKinnon can be reached at 757-345-2341.
Gregory Joseph Tarman Jr., Medical Service Corps, Active Duty
Cadets commissioned Friday:
Mark Andrew Ames, Field Artillery, Active Duty
Morgan Grace Bayer, Aviation Corps, Active Duty
Kyle Alfonso Borda, Infantry/Military Intelligence (Detail), Active Duty
Erin Michelle Caverly, Aviation Corps, Active Duty
Jordan Clare Cirenza, Field Artillery, Active Duty
Dylan Thomas Farley, Signal Corps, Reserve Duty
Luke Stolte Frerichs, Field Artillery, Active Duty
Heather Marie Jackson, Military Intelligence, Reserve Duty
Trever Hill Johnson, Infantry/Adjutant General (Detail), Active Duty
Alexander Lee Lum, Unassigned/Educational Delay (Law School-UVA)
Ian Stuart Lyle, Military Intelligence, Reserve Duty
Gwyneth Dal McKenna, Military Intelligence, Active Duty
Kirsten M. Moser, Quartermaster, Active Duty
Christian Rhys Nott, Infantry, Reserve Duty
Simon Slifman Ranagan, Infantry, Active Duty
Daniel Gdovin Salmon, Ordnance Corps, Active Duty
Timothy Joseph Schorr, Chemical Corps, Active Duty