One of the great gifts that I have in my job comes when we are in production and the student actors are getting ready for the show. As a tech guy, I have little to nothing to do with makeup and costumes, but, during a show there is a lot action happening in the Makeup area, and watching the students apply stage makeup is, as I said, a great gift. See, the students come in as students, with all the spirit, energy, and attitude that University students carry. But, as the makeup goes on, without fail, the sounds, the chatter, the noises of students in their late teens or early twenties starts to fall away and is replaced with the character that they need to be for that performance. It doesn’t happen to every student, but this is the case with most. It is one of those truly indescribable moments in theatre, and it never ceases to amaze me.
On Saturday morning, May 13, 2017, Burtness Theatre will be the venue for the annual UND Army ROTC and UND Air Force ROTC Spring commissioning ceremonies (8:00 a.m. for Army, 10:00 a.m. for Air Force). I can’t tell you how many years we have done this at Burtness, but every year I am thrilled and honored to have a small part in a really important day. The men and women on the stage who will be taking the oath are making life changing commitments in front of friends, family, and fellow military. That oath is actually fairly simple, but has powerful ramifications.
“I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
To defend the Constitution of the United States. Not a President. Not Congress. The Constitution. As I said, simple, but powerful.
But that’s not why I’m writing. My thoughts go toward change. The change of young men and women from students to officers. Just like with our Theatre Arts actors, I am blessed to see this same transformation with each ROTC class. When the students come into rehearsal, they are laughing, shouting, joking, enjoying the company of their cadre. The air is light-hearted (sometimes to the frustration of a much older technical director), but the work gets done. Then comes the morning of commissioning. Those same students in their dress uniforms seem changed. Maybe not wiser than the day before, but filled with a seriousness that some probably never even knew that they had. It is a transformation, glorious and stunning.
Those men and women will be off to all parts of the United States, a fair number usually stationed to Fort Rucker, but they could go anywhere. Some will leave the stage with no idea of where they will be until more paperwork is processed. For some, life will be short, with lives given up for comrade or Constitution. Most will live a longer life, and a career in the United States Army or Air Force. One may one day be a general. It could happen. After all, Saturday’s guest speaker for the Army ROTC commissioning is a Grand Forks boy who graduated from UND and experienced his own transformation from a cadet to an officer right here on our campus (but years before they started using Burtness Theatre).
War is a despiseable thing, but having gotten to know some of our military through the years, it is a despiseable thing that is handled well by the officers and the enlisted of our military, by men and women who understand the importance of patience, of being that necessary point of the spear only when all else has failed, and ready to sacrifice self for the Constitution and the greater community. That dedication is part instinct and part learned behavior. Behavior that comes as responsibility that transforms a person into someone greater than themselves.
The transformation begins here, and I am honored to be a witness.