University of Texas at Austin 2014 Commencement Address - Admiral William H. McRaven

thank you very much thank you well Thank

You president powers Provost fenves

Dean's members of the faculty family and

friends and most importantly the class

of 2014 it is it is indeed an honor for

me to be here tonight

it's been almost 37 years to the day

that I graduated from UT I remember a

lot of things about that day I remember

I had a throbbing headache from a party

the night before I remember I had a

serious girlfriend who I later married

that's important to remember by the way

and I remember I was getting

commissioned in the Navy that day but of

all the things I remember I don't have a

clue who the commencement speaker was

and I certainly don't remember anything

they said so acknowledging that fact if

I can't make this commencement speech


I won't least try to make it short so

the university slogan is what starts

here changes the world well I've got to

admit I kind of like it what starts here

changes the world tonight there are

almost 8,000 students there more than

8,000 students graduated from UT so that

great paragon of analytical rigor says that the average American

will meet 10,000 people in their

lifetime 10,000 people that's a lot of

folks but if every one of you change the

lives of just 10 people and each one of

those people change the lives of another

10 people and another 10 then in five

generations 125 years the class of 2014

will have changed the lives of 800

million people 800 million people

think about it over twice the population

of the United States go one more

generation and you can change the entire

population of the world eight billion

people if you think it's hard to change

the lives of ten people change their

lives forever you're wrong

I saw it happen everyday in Iraq and

Afghanistan a young army officer makes a

decision to go left instead of right

down a road in Baghdad and the ten

soldiers with him are saved from a

close-in ambush in Tenderheart province

Afghanistan a noncommissioned officer

from the Female Engagement Team senses

that something isn't right

and directs the infantry platoon away

from a 500-pound I Edie saving the lives

of a dozen soldiers but if you think

about it not only were those soldiers

say by the decisions of one person but

their children were saved and their

children's children generations were

saved by one decision one person but

changing the world can happen anywhere

and anyone can do it

so what starts here can indeed change

the world but the question is what will

the world look like after you change it

well I'm confident that it will look

much much better but if you'll humor

this old sailor for just a moment I have

a few suggestions that may help you on

your way to a better world and while

these lessons were learned during my

time in the military I can assure you

that it matters not whether you ever

served a day in uniform it matters not

your gender your ethnic or religious

background your orientation or your

social status our struggles in this

world are similar and the lessons to

overcome those struggles and to move

forward changing ourselves and changing

the world around us will apply equally

to all I've been a Navy SEAL for 36

years but it all began when I left UT

for basic SEAL training in Coronado

California basic SEAL training is six

months a long torturous runs in the soft

sand midnight swims in the cold water

off San Diego obstacle courses unending

calisthenics days without sleep and

always being cold wet and miserable it

is six months of being constantly


by professionally trained warriors who

seek to find the weak of mind and body

and eliminate them from ever becoming a

Navy SEAL but the training also seeks to

find those students who can lead in an

environment of constant stress chaos

failure and hardships to me basic SEAL

training was a lifetime of challenges

crammed into six months so here the 10

lessons I learned from basic SEAL

training that hopefully will be a value

to you as you move forward in life every

morning in SEAL training my instructors

who at the time were all Vietnam

veterans would show up in my barracks

room and the first thing they do is

inspect my bed if you did it right

the corners would be square the covers

would be pulled tight the pillows

centered just under the headboard and

the extra blanket folded neatly at the

foot of the rack it was a simple task

mundane at best but every morning we

were required to make our bed to

perfection it seemed a little ridiculous

at the time particularly in light of the

fact that we were aspiring to be real

warriors tough battle-hardened seals but

the wisdom of this simple act has been

proven to me many times over if you make

your bed every morning you will have

accomplished the first task of the day

it will give you a small sense of pride

and it will encourage you to do another

task and another and another and by the

end of the day that one task completed

will have turned into mini task

completed making your bed will also

reinforce the fact that the little

things in life matter if you can't do

the little things right you'll never be

able to do the big things right and if

by chance you have a miserable day you

will come home to a bed that is made

that you made and a made bed gives you

encouragement that tomorrow will be

better so if you want to change the

world start off by making your bed

during SEAL training the students during

training the students are all broken

down into boat crews each crew is seven

students three on each side of a small

rubber boat and one Coxon to help guide

the dinghy every day your boat crew

forms up on the beach and is instructed

to get through the surf zone and paddle

several miles down the coast in the

winter the surf off San Diego can get to

be eight to ten feet high and it is

exceedingly difficult to paddle hook

through the plunging surf unless

everyone digs in every paddle must be

synchronized to the stroke count of the

Coxon everyone must exert equal effort

or the boat will turn against the wave

and be unceremoniously dumped back on

the beach for the boat to make it to its


everyone must paddle you can't change

the world alone you will need some help

and to truly get from your starting

point to your destination takes friends

colleagues the good will of strangers

and a strong oxen to guide you if you

want to change the world find someone to

help you paddle over a few weeks of

difficult training my SEAL class which

started with 150 men was down to just 42

there were now six boat crews of seven

men each I was in the boat with the tall

guys but the best boat crew we had was

made up of little guys the Munchkin crew

we called him

no one was over five foot five the

Munchkin boat crew had one American

Indian one African American one Polish

American one Greek American one Italian

American and two tough kids from the

Midwest they out paddled out ran and out

swam all the other boat crews the big

men and the other boat crews will always

make good-natured fun of the tiny little

flippers the munchkins put on their tiny

little feet prior to every swim but

somehow these little guys from every

corner of the nation in the world always

have the last laugh

sewing faster than everyone and reaching

the shore long before the rest of us

SEAL training was a great equalizer

nothing mattered but your will to

succeed not your color not your ethnic

background not your education not your

social status if you want to change the

world measure a person by the size of

their heart not by the size of their

flippers several times a week the

instructors would line up the class and

do a uniform inspection it was

exceptionally thorough your hat had to

be perfectly starched your uniform

immaculately pressed your belt buckle

shiny and void of any smudges but it

seemed that no matter how much effort

you put into starting your hat or

pressing your uniform or polishing your

belt buckle it just wasn't good enough

the instructors would find something

wrong for failing the uniform inspection

the student had to run fully clothed

into the surf zone then wet from head to

toe roll around on the beach until every

part of your body was covered with sand

the effect was known as a sugar cookie

you stayed in the uniform the rest of

the day cold wet and Sandy

there were many a student who just

couldn't accept the fact that all their

efforts were in vain that no matter how

hard they tried to get the uniform right

it went unappreciated those students

didn't make it through training those

students didn't understand the purpose

of the drill you were never going to

succeed you were never going to have a

perfect uniform the instructors weren't

going to allow it sometimes no matter

how well you prepare or how well you

perform you still end up as a sugar

cookie it's just the way life is

sometimes if you want to change the

world did over being a sugar cookie and

keep moving forward every day during

training you were challenged with

multiple physical events long runs long

swims obstacle courses hours of

calisthenics something designed to test

your mettle every event had standards

times you had to meet if you fail to

meet those times those standards your

name was posted on a list and at the end

of the day those on the list were

invited to

circus a circus was two hours of

additional calisthenics designed to wear

you down to break your spirit to force

you to quit no one wanted a circus a

circus myth that for that day you didn't

measure up

a circus meant more fatigue and more

fatigue meant that the following day

would be more difficult and more

circuses were likely but at some time

during seal training everyone everyone

made the circus list but an interesting

an interesting thing happened to those

who were constantly on the list over

time those students who did two hours of

extra calisthenics gets stronger and

stronger the pain of the circuses built

inner strength and physical resiliency

life is filled with circuses you will

fail you will likely fail often it will

be painful it will be discouraging at

times it will test you to your very core

but if you don't if you want to change

the world don't be afraid of the

circuses at least twice a week the

trainees were required to run the

obstacle course the obstacle course

contained 25 obstacles including the

10-foot wall a 30-foot cargo net a

barbed wire crawl to name a few but the

most challenging obstacle was the slide

for life

it had a three level 30-foot tower at

one end and a one level Tower at the

other in between was a 200-foot long

rope you had to climb the three tiered

tower and once at the top you grabbed

the rope swung underneath the rope and

pulled yourself hand over hand until you

got to the other end the record for the

obstacle course had stood for years from

my class began in 1977 the record seemed

unbeatable until one day a student

decided to go down the slide for life

headfirst instead of swinging his body

underneath the rope and inching his way

down he bravely mounted the top of the

rope and thrust himself forward it was a

dangerous move seemingly foolish and

fraught with risk failure could be an

injury and being dropped from the course

without hesitation the students slid

down the Rope perilously fast instead of

several minutes it only took him half

that time and by the end of the course

yeah broken the record if you want to

change the world sometimes you have to

slide down the obstacles headfirst

during the land warfare phase of

training the students are flown out to

San Clemente Island which lies off the

coast of San Diego

the waters off San Clemente are a

breeding ground for the great white

sharks to pass seal training they're a

series of long swims that must be

completed one is the night swim before

the swim the instructors joyfully brief

the students on all the species of

sharks that inhabit the waters off San

Clemente they assure you however that no

student has ever been eaten by a shark

at least not that they can remember but

you were also taught that if a shark

begins to circle your position stand

your ground do not swim away

do not act afraid and if the shark

hungry for a midnight snack darts

towards you then summons up all your

strength and punch him in the snout and

you will turn and swim away there are a

lot of sharks in the world if you hope

to complete the swim you will have to

deal with them so if you want to change

the world don't back down from the

sharks as Navy SEALs one of our jobs is

to conduct underwater attacks against

enemy shipping we practice this

technique extensively during training

the ship attack mission is where a pair

of SEAL divers is dropped off outside an

enemy harbor and then swims well over

two miles underwater using nothing but a

depth gauge and a compass to get to the

target during the entire swim even well

below the surface there is some light

that comes through it is comforting to

know that there is open water above you

but as you approach the ship which is

tied to appear the light begins to fade

the steel structure of the ship blocks

the moonlight it blocks the surrounding

streetlamps it blocks all ambient light

to be successful in your mission you

have to swim under the ship and find the

keel the centerline

the deepest part of the ship this is

your objective but the keel is also the

darkest part of the ship where you

cannot see your hand in front of your

face where the noise from the ship's

machinery is deafening and where it gets

to be easily disoriented and you can

fail every seal knows that under the

keel at that darkest moment of the

mission is a time when you need to be

calm when you must be calm when you must

be composed when all your tactical

skills your physical power and your

inner strength must be brought to bear

if you want to change the world you must

be your very best in the darkest moments

the ninth week of training is referred

to as hell week it is six days of no

sleep constant physical and mental

harassment and one special day at the

mud flats the mud flats are an area

between San Diego and Tijuana where the

water runs off and creates the Tijuana

sloughs a swampy patch of terrain where

the mud will engulf you it is on

Wednesday of hell week that's a paddle

down in the mud flats and spend the next

15 hours trying to survive this freezing

cold the howling wind and the incessant

pressure to quit from the instructors as

the Sun began to set that Wednesday

evening my training class having

committed some egregious infraction of

the rules was ordered into the mud the

mud consumed each man till there was

nothing visible but our heads

the instructors told us we could leave

the mud if only five men would quit only

five men just five men and we could get

out of the oppressive cold looking

around the mud flat it was apparent that

some students were about to give up it

was still over eight hours till the Sun

came up eight more hours of

bone-chilling cold a chattering teeth

and shivering moans of the trainees were

so loud it was hard to hear anything and

then one voice began to echo through the

night one voice raised in song the song

was terribly out of tune but sung with

great enthusiasm

one voice became two and two became

three and before long everyone in the

class was singing the instructors

threatened us with more time in the mud

if we kept up the singing but the

singing persisted and somehow the mud

seemed a little warmer and the wind a

little tamer and the dawn not so far

away if I have learned anything in my

time traveling the world it is the power

of hope the power of one person a

Washington a Lincoln King Mandela and

even a young girl from Pakistan Malala

one person can change the world by

giving people hope so if you want to

change the world start singing when

you're up to your neck in mud finally a

seal training there's a bell a brass

Bell that hangs in the center of the

compound for all the students to see all

you have to do quit all you have to do

to quit is ring the bell ring the bell

and you no longer have to wake up at 5

o'clock ring the bell and you no longer

have to be in the freezing cold swims

ring the bell and you no longer have to

do the runs the obstacle course the PT

and you no longer have to endure the

hardships of training all you have to do

is ring the bell to get out if you want

to change the world don't ever ever ring

the bell to the class of 2014 you are

moments away from graduating moments

away from beginning your journey through

life moments away from starting to

change the world for the better it will

not be easy but you are the class of

2014 the class that can affect the lives

of 800 million people in the next

century start each day with a task

completed find someone to help you

through life respect everyone know that

life is not fair and that you will fail

often but if you take some risks step up

on the time through the toughest faced

down the bullies lift up the downtrodden

and never ever give up if you do these

things the next generation and the

generations that follow will live in a

world far better than the one we

today and what started here will indeed

have changed the world for the better

thank you very much clucking horns