"It should not be hard for our great schools of learning to find room to honor the service of men and women who are standing up to defend the freedoms that make the work of our universities possible," Bush said Thursday.
"To the cadets and midshipmen who are graduating from a college or university that believes ROTC is not worthy of a place on campus, here is my message: Your university may not honor your military service, but the United States of America does," he said.
The president spoke at a joint commissioning ceremony at the White House for members of the Reserve Officer Training Corps. About 55 cadets and midshipmen in the East Room came from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
ROTC is available in more than 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States. During the Vietnam War, campuses were hotbeds of dissent, and many protests were aimed at the military presence in the form of ROTC programs. Students demanded the ouster of ROTC programs from their campuses, and many have not been reinstated.
Three of the officers in the White House ceremony came from schools that don't allow ROTC on campus, including Harvard University, Stanford University and Columbia University. Bush saluted their extra sacrifice.
"This can require long commutes several times a week to another campus that does offer ROTC, so you can attend a military class, participate in a drill," the president said. "Most of all, it means living a split existence - where your life as a cadet or midshipmen is invisible to most of your fellow students."