UChicago to host officer commissioning ceremony during Convocation Weekend

During UChicago’s Convocation Weekend, Garrett Healy and Sarah Starr will step onto a stage outside Snell-Hitchcock Hall and be commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army.

The honor for the two students graduating from the College marks the return of a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps commissioning ceremony to the University. Both students have been working to expand the presence on campus of the officer training program known as ROTC, including having it become a recognized student organization.

“It’s something I always felt passionately about, that we should have a stronger military presence on campus,” said Starr, who is headed to Washington D.C. to work in military intelligence. “We have such talent here, and the military could benefit.”

Healy, who will become an infantry officer in the New Jersey National Guard, is proud of the work he and Starr have done to build up ROTC. “It means a lot to leave something behind at UChicago,” he said. “I don’t know if everyone gets to say they made an impact.”

The first ROTC unit on campus began in 1917 before it was transferred to Michigan State University in 1936. ROTC was not excluded from UChicago as at some other universities, but a lack of interest kept the program from returning to campus. Instead, UChicago provided support for students participating in ROTC, and cadets commuted to the University of Illinois at Chicago or Illinois Institute of Technology for training.

Last year, ROTC became a student organization at UChicago, and cadets started to train again on campus. Starr said the change is having a considerable impact on the program. “My first year, I was the only one commuting for training,” she said. “It’s much easier now. We have a dozen students participating.”

The commissioning ceremony, which will take place at 5:30 p.m. June 10, will feature an oath and pinning in which Healy and Starr will attain the rank of second lieutenant. The guest speaker is Patrick J. Murphy, former U.S. Representative of the Eighth Congressional District of Pennsylvania and most recently the 32nd Under Secretary of the Army. 

“We were more than happy for the cadets to have their commissioning ceremony on campus,” said Jay Ellison, dean of students in the College. “We fully support their interests and career aspirations and look forward to recognizing their hard work.”

“It means a lot to leave something behind at UChicago. I don’t know if everyone gets to say they made an impact.”College student Garrett Healy

At the ceremony, Murphy said he’ll discuss the importance of choosing to “live a purposeful life, not just for the next five years but for the next five decades.”

When Murphy was a fellow at UChicago’s Institute of Politics in 2014, he was surprised ROTC wasn’t on campus and credits the work of Healy and Starr as well as those at the Institute of Politics for its return.

“To see great leaders like Sarah and Garrett lead the way in getting ROTC back with the help of IOP Director David Axelrod and Executive Director Steve Edwards has been inspiring,” Murphy said.

Starr, a double major in mathematics and political science, enlisted in the Army before even arriving at UChicago. A native of Evanston, she decided in high school to take a gap year after graduation—and a chance encounter with a recruiter set her on an unexpected path.

“The military was not something I was familiar with,” Starr said. “They were offering a test at school one day, and talking to recruiters really opened my eyes up to the opportunities you could have.”

For Healy, his mother’s career in the U.S. State Department and interactions with the Marines on embassy grounds exposed him early on to military life. A biology major with a specialization in neuroscience, Healy’s goal is to attend medical school and become an Army doctor.

Both Healy and Starr have found strong support for their work on campus and look forward to seeing interest in ROTC continue to grow.

“The reaction has been universally positive from the community, and I’ve really appreciated that,” Healy said.