A couple of months before he was set to graduate from Purdue University, Filippo Lippi received an email from his adviser about being nominated as a student responder for commencement.
She told him it would be a really cool opportunity, and she needed a copy of his résumé.
But there were a couple of issues: He didn’t know what a student responder was, and he didn’t have a résumé.
For each of the university’s undergraduate divisions, student are nominated to speak at commencement, and it’s up to President Mitch Daniels to make the final decisions. Only five students are chosen.
As far as a résumé, Lippi, a 2015 Brownstown Central High School graduate, didn’t have one because he had completed the Army ROTC program at Purdue and already had a job with the Army lined up after graduation. He quickly typed up a résumé and emailed it to his adviser.
A couple of weeks later, he received an email from the dean’s office stating he was selected to be a student responder at commencement for the College of Liberal Arts and Purdue Polytechnic Institute.
On May 10 through 12, nearly 6,000 students participated in spring commencement ceremonies in the Elliott Hall of Music on the West Lafayette campus.
“It honestly didn’t all sink in until commencement actually happened because I had no idea what a student responder was. I didn’t really grasp it when they told me I was going to do it,” Lippi, 22, said. “But it was definitely a huge honor. I don’t even know what to say about it. It was an honor.”
‘Embrace the suck’
Arriving onstage May 10, he greeted Daniels before stepping up to the podium.
“I have mixed feelings about graduating. On one hand, I’m excited to start my career as an entry officer and apply what I’ve learned at this fine institution to real life,” he said.
“On the contrary, these have been the most fun, exciting and eye-opening years of my life, which makes part of me want to stay in college forever,” he said, drawing laughter from Daniels and the crowd.
Then he explained he had three minutes to give an insightful speech about how he and his fellow graduates would enter a new chapter in their lives and everything is going to be great.
“Which it will be, although we would be lying to ourselves if we failed to recognize the challenges that lie ahead and how we’re going to make lemonade when life gives us oranges,” Lippi said.
“Some of us are going to have to learn new jobs, build new relationships or have to buy a house or start a family — all things that are great by graduating and progressing through life but that also require a lot of effort and dedication and overcoming adversity,” he said.
Throughout his time as a cadet in the Army, Lippi said a quote he repeatedly heard helped him through difficult times: “Embrace the suck.”
He said the suck can be applied to almost anything. For him, it was sleeping outside in the rain after eating a cold meal or carrying a 55-pound pack for 20-plus miles.
“Depending on your interpretation of a difficult task, the suck can be applied to new challenges that we’ll all face upon graduation,” he said. “That quote, although only three words, serves as a reminder to enjoy the grind, accept challenges and know that anything worth having won’t come easy.”
While at Purdue, Lippi said he learned that having a positive attitude and “embracing the suck” can make seemingly impossible tasks a little less intimidating.
“With that being said, I’ve also found that trying to attack life’s problems single-handedly can become overwhelming,” he said. “Therefore, I encourage you all to reach out to your support system, talk to them and don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice. And likewise, be that supportive individual for someone else and show them that you care through your words and your actions.”
He wrapped up his speech by thanking his family and friends for supporting him. His parents, Greg and Alex Hutcheson; younger brother, Gregory Hutcheson; and friends, Collin DeHart and Darrell Branaman, attended the ceremony. He also thanked professors and mentors who taught him valuable life lessons.
“Thank you all. God bless. Hail the infantry, and hail Purdue,” he said.
During his keynote address, Daniels said the antonym of snowflake should be boilermaker. Lippi said he found that funny because it was similar to his message.
“I think there’s a big stereotype that our generation is soft, so it was basically just saying, ‘Don’t be soft, just embrace it, and it’s not all going to be easy, but that’s part of life,’” Lippi said. “I don’t have much life experience, obviously, but being able to share something that I know or something that I care about meant a lot.”
Road to Purdue
Lippi received a Bachelor of Science in organizational leadership and also minored in biometrics and military science.
The morning of graduation, he participated in commissioning with his parents, brother and Branaman in attendance. Branaman pinned on his second lieutenant bars, which is something Lippi recently did for his friend when he was commissioned and graduated from Ball State University.
Lippi and Branaman ranked in the top 20% in the nation among Army ROTC students along with fellow 2015 BCHS graduate Elisa Gallion, who graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
He appreciated his family and Branaman being there.
“They were always behind me 100% the whole time,” Lippi said. “The support system carries you throughout everything, so it’s important to thank them and let them know that you care, as well.”
At an early age growing up in Vicenza, Italy, Lippi said he developed an interest in joining the military. He was particularly interested in the Army because his father served for 22 years.
“He never pressured me to serve or anything, but when I was growing up seeing him, I always just looked up to him and I liked the Army lifestyle,” Lippi said. “I thought it was really honorable, and that’s just something I always wanted to do.”
Lippi said he didn’t start American school and learn English until sixth grade at an Army post in Italy.
The summer before his freshman year, the family moved back to Greg’s hometown, Brownstown. Lippi played football all four years and was on the track and field team his first three years at Brownstown Central High School.
“I had a pretty easy transition, actually,” he said. “When I went to school on the Army post, people move all of the time, and you kind of learn how to make friends pretty easy. Then when I got here, I started playing football, and everybody was super welcoming.”
During his junior year, he found out about ROTC and applied. The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps trains college students to become officers in the U.S. armed forces.
“It’s not like the regular college application or a scholarship application,” Lippi said. “You have to do physical exams, actual physical tests — running, pushups, stuff like that — and then you’ve got to go interview with the lieutenant colonel at whatever school, so there’s a lot longer process than just a normal scholarship.”
He received scholarships to Purdue and The Citadel and ultimately chose to stay in-state.
Becoming a leader
Lippi quickly realized it wasn’t going to be easy waking up early every day to do physical training. Depending on a person’s job within the battalion, it can be harder or easier, he said.
“I would say you get out of it what you put into it,” he said. “I sought out all of the hardest jobs and competed in a bunch of different physical events, so I kind of made it harder on myself, but in the end, it paid off because I ended up getting the job I wanted.”
For the first three years, cadets are being assessed. Then before their senior year, they spend a month at Fort Knox, Kentucky, being assessed by current service members and ranked based on how they conduct themselves.
The assessment model is based on grade-point average and physical capabilities, and Lippi said a big chunk of it is based on leadership potential.
“Basically, you’re assessed by your instructors at your own school and lieutenant colonel at your own school, and then when you go do these other trainings in the summer, you get assessed there, too, and it all feeds into this big assessions packet,” he said.
For the monthlong training in the summer of 2018, Lippi went to air assault school in Estonia.
He then was a cadet operations officer for a semester and ended up as a company commander leading 52 cadets.
“We have an order of merit list within our battalion,” Lippi said. “Certain jobs are more demanding than others. If you seek out the harder jobs, it can be challenging, but you definitely learned a lot and gained from it.”
Starting a career
Later this month, he will head to Fort Benning, Georgia. He will start the infantry basic officer leaders course, move into ranger school and then hopes to get picked up to go to airborne school.
“Once I’m done at Fort Benning, I don’t know where I’ll be going after that, but you basically get sent somewhere around the world or in the continental U.S. and pick up a platoon of 40 guys and train them,” Lippi said.
His goal is to make the Army his career.
“I’m going into it open-minded,” he said. “As of right now, everything I’ve done with the Army, I’ve really enjoyed it, so I could see myself doing it for a really long time. I also haven’t been in a real unit doing real things, so I’m keeping an open mind about it.”
So why make that his career choice?
“Because every single day, you’re working with people and it’s a people business, and I enjoy that,” Lippi said. “Especially as an officer, your job is to be a leader, so any way that you can influence other people and work with other people, that’s what I want to do.”
Lippi said he hopes his story influences other students to pursue their dreams.
“Nobody is going to hand you anything, but you’ve got to set goals and do whatever you have to do to get those goals and work with other people to try to achieve them,” he said.
“While I was in high school, I wasn’t the best at one particular thing, but I think I surrounded myself with the right people,” Lippi said. “My friends and my family were all great, and then I had pretty specific goals, which you don’t have to have in high school, but I knew exactly what I wanted to do. Then I talked to the right people to kind of show me the way to achieve my goals. Then at that point, it’s all on you.”
Name: Filippo Lippi
Hometown: Vicenza, Italy
Education: Brownstown Central High School (2015); Purdue University (Bachelor of Science in organization leadership and minors in biometrics and military science and completed ROTC program, 2019)
Occupation: Infantry officer for the U.S. Army with the rank of second lieutenant
Family: Parents, Greg and Alex Hutcheson; brother, Gregory Hutcheson