Officer Soderberg wasn't there to see his 88 trainees become sworn officers Wednesday morning, but his presence was deeply felt.
In any graduation ceremony there is a mix of emotion -- knowing that ahead lies all that an Endeavour promises -- and the challenges. But that is ever so much more the case when you're talking of police setting off to hold the line, the line behind which we all stand for protection. Chicago's newest cops went through that Wednesday -- with the death of their teacher last week reminding them of what sacrifice in their profession can mean.
These cadets are officers now -- in large measure due to the teachings of a dedicated trainer who died last week in the line of duty. Thor Soderberg preached approaching policing with "fresh eyes."
"Having fresh eyes meant always approach a situation with an open mind, without bias," said valedictorian Deanna M. Rachuy. "For you see, his death was not in vain: the lessons we learn and continue to learn from his life will make us better police officers and better human beings."
To that end, a Thor Soderberg Award for incoming police officers was instituted Wednesday. Its first recipient is Officer Michael Chatham, Class of 09-B.
"I will demonstrate the same humility that he has given the great authority that we have, stay humble wearing the badge, because it is tremendous authority and power that we have," said Chatham.
A classmate, Officer Michael Kennedy, was voted top recruit by his peers. He said Thor Soderberg's power for inspiration is not being overblown -- and Kennedy would not have achieved what's memorialized on the award's plaque without his mentor.
"I am going to have professionalism like he displayed, integrity, honesty, just help people, you know, help humanity," said Kennedy.
"Officer Soderberg has prepared you for your work as guardians of our society. And you are ready. You have called him a hero, and he is," said Supt. Jody Weis, Chicago Police Department.
Mayor Daley used the occasion to defend the city's new gun laws as he remembered Soderberg and what he should mean to his students.
"The real heroes, Officer Thor Soderberg and many others across North America, that gave their life in serving and protecting the police officer. I will pray for you. I will pray for your careers as members of the Chicago Police Department," said the mayor.
The mayor and the superintendent implored the new officers to protect their reputations and live as role models -- and warned their lives and actions, as police officers, will be scrutinized 24-7.
Soderberg instructed that fact was among the most effective tools recruits could use to make the world a better place. And judging by the emotion on display Wednesday, this class of the summer of 2010 is ready to get to work.