Navy Ensign Emily Ortwein ’20 had “one of the most special and exciting experiences of her life” May 22, the culmination of four years of rigorous military training.
Traditionally, seniors in Cornell’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program receive their commissions together, in a spring ceremony in Barton Hall. This year, the ceremony was canceled for the first time, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, each officer candidate “Zoomed” into an individual ceremony from around the country, with family and friends virtually cheering them on.
For Ortwein, that change in plans could not have worked out better.
Surrounded by her father’s awards and memorabilia from his 30 years as a Navy intelligence officer, Ortwein became an officer in the Navy at her parents’ home in Woodbridge, Virginia. Her father, a retired captain, administered the ceremonial oath.
Six Cornell seniors became officers May 22 in either the U.S. Navy or the U.S. Marine Corps; three more will take the oath May 29. Five of the nine Cornell officer candidates will have a family member execute the oath.
“My dad has been able to give me a lot of insight over the last four years into what it’s like to be an officer, what to focus on during training and important principles one should have as an officer,” Ortwein said.
“Having him there as a part of my commissioning ceremony was a culmination of all the support and helpful advice he’s given me to this point,” she said. “I could not be more excited and honored to follow in my dad’s footsteps as an officer.”
Ortwein, who majored in China and Asia-Pacific studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, will go on to flight training school in Pensacola, Florida.
U.S. Marine 2nd Lt. Fletcher Kirol ’20 asked his uncle, Charles Kirol, a captain in the Navy, to administer the oath.
“He’s someone I always looked up to,” Fletcher Kirol said of his uncle.
He and his roommates, Navy Ensigns Marcus Hussey ’20 (B.S., Engineering) and William Wilkinson’20 (B.S., College of Agriculture and Life Sciences), Zoomed in for their ceremonies from the Cornell War Memorial. They spent the previous day lugging materials to the memorial to construct a makeshift ceremonial background; Kirol, a materials science and engineering major in the College of Engineering, cut and twisted wire coat hangers and to make a “flag spreader” – a frame that unfurls a flag for ceremonial purposes. “We angled the camera so nobody could see the fact that we had binders and cinder blocks on the bottom to hold the flags in place,” he said.
Although he said the ceremony was a blur, his main thought was happiness at being able to make his parents and his uncle proud.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the Marines you lead,” he said of becoming an officer. “Your most important job is to return the people that you’re in charge of back into the community as better citizens. … You have to go in thinking you’re going to improve some people’s lives in some way – and also protect the lives of people at home.”
Ortwein said her biggest challenge as an officer candidate was developing her personal leadership style. As a Navy officer, she’ll have to quickly assume important leadership roles and will have a lot of people looking to her for guidance.
“That means you have to be a role model in professionalism, physical fitness and morality,” she said. “I think it is important to lead by example, and doing your best to represent Navy core values – honor, courage and commitment – will go a long way in demonstrating to others why you should be leading them and advising them on how best to perform.”
Capt. Anthony Roach, commanding officer and professor of naval science in Cornell’s Naval ROTC program, said he wishes the circumstances could have been different for these seniors.
“But I have tried to stress with them that this is just the beginning of their great adventure,” said Roach, who presided at each ceremony. “Succeeding in NROTC is not the high-water mark of their military careers. While presently disappointing, the odyssey they are embarking upon will take them to great heights.”
Also receiving commissions May 22 were Navy Ensigns Emily Beres ’20 (B.A., A&S) and Catherine “Cat” DePuy ’20 (B.S., Engineering). Navy Ensigns Nicholas Kilen ’20 (B.S., Engineering), Isaac Mitchell ’20 (B.A., A&S) and Mark Dellefave ’20 (B.S., Engineering) will receive their commissions May 29.
In keeping with tradition, the newly commissioned officers will mail a silver dollar, a symbol of gratitude, to the enlisted service member who has had the most impact on them.