Cornell University: Commissioned ROTC seniors embrace change, uncertainty

Getting up as early as 5 a.m. several times each week for physical training, and completing military coursework on top of Cornell academics, a dozen seniors enrolled in Cornell’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) were sure to experience college differently than many peers.

The pandemic made their challenge even tougher. But Samuel DeLorenzo ’22, outgoing commander of Cornell’s Tri-Service Brigade, said during his class’s ROTC commissioning ceremony May 27 in Alice Statler Auditorium that his classmates might have benefitted from the early lesson that there’s no one normal life experience, and that they each must master their own fates.

“Looking to the future, the roles each of us will play in America’s defense and conflicts are uncertain,” said DeLorenzo, of Chesapeake, Virginia, before commissioning as an Air Force second lieutenant. “And events that were once unusual, or once in a century, will become ordinary. Truly, the one certainty is that we will all carry on Cornell’s rich military tradition by serving our country proudly and with distinction.”

Later, DeLorenzo’s wife, Air Force 1st Lt. Shauna (Hwang) DeLorenzo ’19, administered the oath of office, as he swore to support and defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. His parents pinned rank bars to his uniform’s shoulders. Then he exchanged a first salute with enlisted adviser Specialist Gary Napieracz, offering a silver dollar as a symbol of gratitude to enlisted personnel.

DeLorenzo was one of 19 Tri-Service Brigade members representing five area colleges and universities to be commissioned as reserve officers during the ceremony – the first in two years to be held fully in person, and also livestreamed. Some will pursue active-duty service, others as reserves or in the National Guard.

Air Force Maj. Gen. Dawne L. Deskins, the ceremony’s featured guest speaker, who retired earlier this month as deputy director of the Air National Guard, also encouraged the commissionees to embrace uncertainty and change.

A 1984 Ithaca College graduate, she recalled how changing threats to the nation, from 9/11 to Russia’s recent invasion of Ukraine, had reshaped the nation’s air defense and influenced her career in unexpected ways.

“As you sit here, ready to embark on this journey, you just need to realize that your future isn’t written yet,” Deskins said. “The country is putting great trust in you. And with that trust comes great responsibility – responsibility to always be prepared.”

For Megan Steindl ’22, who commissioned as an Army second lieutenant and will be stationed in Germany, military training made the Ukraine conflict feel more real. She said ROTC overall had helped her build leadership skills and gain perspective through the pandemic.

“The big thing is just having a better attitude and persevering, knowing nothing’s the end of the world,” said Steindl, of Greenwich, New York, who followed two siblings into ROTC and whose parents are veterans.

“It’s such a moment of pride for us,” said her mother, Wendy Steindl, a retired captain in the Army Reserves. “It’s been a big sacrifice for her, but she’s really grown from it.”

Kingmin Lee ’22, who commissioned as a Navy ensign and will serve aboard the USS Tripoli out of San Diego, expects the leadership skills he’s honing to complement his interest in business.

“You learn how to deal with problems in a very constructive way that helps people move forward,” said Lee, of Los Angeles and Overland Park, Kansas. “I think I have the tools that I need to be successful, whatever the situation the Navy puts me through.”

Socrates Kastanos, commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps, will report to The Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, then to an assignment yet to be determined.

“When you enter this job, it’s never about you,” said Kastanos, of Bethesda, Maryland. “It’s always about your people and helping them get through their service – either getting promoted or returning them to society as better citizens. That’s what I’m looking forward to most.”

After the ceremony, the newly commissioned second lieutenants and ensigns moved on to Barton Hall – named for Col. Frank A. Barton ’1891, the first Cornellian granted a commission – for service-specific celebrations and to formally sign oaths of office, one day before the Cornell graduates trade their military uniforms for caps and gowns at Commencement.

“We consider them an elite group,” said Lt. Col. Bryan Mundhenk, professor of aerospace studies and commander of Air Force ROTC Detachment 520 at Cornell. “They’re going to find value in service, but we’re going to benefit from their service and from the education experiences that they had here at Cornell.”

Members of the Class of 2022 receiving commissions May 27 were:

Army: Ogechukwu Ezekwenna, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS); Laura Kubit, CALS; Leigh Anne Neuburger, CALS; Christian Petrilli, CALS; Cloris Shaw-Baker, CALS; Ariel Rebecca Staffin, Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (SC Johnson); Megan Steindl, CALS.
Navy: Kingmin Lee, SC Johnson; Tyler Russano, College of Arts and Sciences (A&S).
Marine Corps: Socrates Kastanos, A&S.
Air Force: Samuel DeLorenzo, A&S; Noah Fox, College of Engineering.
Seven other Tri-Service Brigade members receiving commissions were:

Army: Joseph Forster, State University of New York (SUNY) at Cortland; Ryan Fraleigh, Ithaca College; Benjamin Goldberg, Ithaca College; Curt Gustafson, Elmira College; Jeremy Pekoff, SUNY Cortland; Elizabeth Ryan, Ithaca College.
Air Force: Shaun Burgos Jr., Binghamton University.