Rebecca Segal's parents pinning insignia on her shoulders

The officer commissioning ceremony for Rebecca Segal ’18—Amherst’s first Army ROTC student in 20 years—was held at Johnson Chapel on a Saturday in May as her family, fellow cadets, President Biddy Martin, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton and many others, including veterans standing at attention, looked on.

“Rebecca is a shining example of what’s possible,” said Martin in her remarks that day. Amherst and UMass worked together to create a pathway for Segal, who studied at the College and did her reserve officer training at the university. (See our cover story, Fall 2017.)

The ceremony began with the Minuteman cadets marching up the center aisle in tight formation. Jewish Religious Adviser Bruce Bromberg Seltzer offered a blessing, and then Martin rose to offer her congratulations.

Segal transferred to Amherst in 2016 from George Washington University, “because she had the ambition and desire to get the best possible education in a place where class sizes are small, academic standing is strong and she could be a neuroscience major,” said Martin, adding with a smile: “What she has done in her short time at Amherst is nothing short of incredible.”

Segal has “risen earlier than early” to do her training, while also keeping up with rigorous coursework and being active in the Amherst Military Association, Martin said: “Despite our lack of experience, she has taught us what it means to support students like herself. We’re proud of what you’ve done and proud of what you’re about to do.”

After remarks from Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Lt. Col. Stephen Magner of UMass, Segal took the oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” She was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant, the army’s standard entry-level officer rank.

“Rebecca is a shining example of what’s possible,” said President Martin.

Then the pinning ceremony began. This was the big moment for Lynn and Michael Segal, of Chestnut Hill, Mass., who had been surprised to learn of their daughter’s military ambitions years back, shortly after her bat mitzvah.

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Swearing in ceremony
At Johnson Chapel, the Segals walked up to the stage and stood on either side of their daughter, who faced the crowd. Her mother pinned one insignia to Segal’s right shoulder, while her father pinned the other to her left. The young officer had kept a properly stoic expression for most of the ceremony, but after the pinning all three Segals beamed at those assembled.

At a commissioning, it is traditional for the new officer to pick someone to honor with her first salute. Segal chose her second cousin Bill Appel, a Vietnam War army veteran and the last in her family to serve in the military. Appel strode onto the stage, and the two faced one another, squared their shoulders and gave each other a crisp salute. Then, as is also traditional, Segal presented Appel with a silver dollar.

This summer Segal is an active-duty field artillery officer doing leadership training at Oklahoma’s Fort Sill. She has praised Amherst administrators for helping her construct her unique path, and took a moment to reflect on reaching today’s milestone: “Going into the military is not common where I come from, and I wouldn’t be here without the support of my friends and family. I hope that today helps normalize the process of going into the military while you’re at school.” 

Photo Credit: Maria Stenzel