McRaven Commencement speech

[Jo] I can’t remember if I wrote this out. Or copied it from somewhere. (Its been a while) I don’t generally plagiarize wholesale… but its entirely possible. In any event, this only the highlights reel. The actual speech (easily available on YouTube) is infinitely more endearing. Certainly one of the best commencement speeches in recent history.

Commencement speech by Naval Admiral William H. McRaven, ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, at the University-wide Commencement at The University of Texas at Austin on May 17, 2014.

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  1. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.

+If you make your bed every morning you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a sense of pride and it will encourage you to do another task and another and another.

+By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the face that the little thing in life matter.

+If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never 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.

  1. Find someone to help you paddle.

+During Seal training students are broken down into boat crews. Three on each side and a coxswain to help guide the dingy.

+The surf is exceptionally high and exceedingly difficult to paddle through the surf zone unless everyone digs in. Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke of the coxswain. To make it to the destination 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 coxswain to guide them. 

  1. Measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

+One boat crew was made up of all the little guys. They were called the Munchkin crew.

+But somehow these little guys always had the last laugh – swimming faster than everyone and reaching the shore long before the rest of us.

+Nothing matters but your will to succeed. Not your colour, not you ethnic background, not your education and not your social status.

  1. Get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

+Several times a week the instructors would line up the class and do a uniform inspection. It was exceptionally tough. The instructors would always find something wrong.

+For failing the uniform inspection, the student had to run, fully clothed into the surf zone and then wet, roll around in the sand. The effect was known as a sugar cookie. You stayed in your uniform the rest of the day, cold, wet and sandy.

+There were many students who couldn’t accept that their efforts were in vain. And that you were never going to succeed.

+Sometimes no matter how well you prepare or how well you perform you still end up as a sugar cookie. – Its just the way life is sometimes.

  1. Don’t be afraid of the circuses.

+Every day during training you are challenged with multiple physical events designed to test your mettle. Every event had standards. If you failed those standards you were invited to a circus as the end of the day.

+A circus was two hours of additional calisthenics designed to break you down and force you to quit. At some stage everyone had to go to the circus.

+An interesting thing happened to those that were on the list. The got stronger. The pain of the circus built inner strength and resiliency.

+Life is filled with circuses.

+You will fail. You will likely fail very often. It will be painful. It will be discouraging. At times it will test you to your very core.

  1. Sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle head first.

+At least twice a week you have to run the obstacle course. 25 obstacles, the most challenging was a 200ft rope from a 30ft tower.

+The record seemed unbeatable until a student decided to go down the rope head first.

+The student slid down the rope perilously fast, instead if several minutes it only took him half that time and by the end of it he had broken the course record.

  1. Don’t back down from the sharks.

+To pass Seal Training one has to complete several long swims. One of these is a night swim. Before the swim the instructors gleefully tell the trainees about the sharks that inhabit the waters

+You are taught that if a shark starts to circle your position that you should stand your ground. Do not swim away and do not act afraid.

+There are a lot of sharks in the world. If you hope to complete the swim you will have to deal with them.

  1. You must be your very best in the darkest moment.

+The ship attack mission is where a pair of Seals are dropped off outside an enemy harbour and then swim 2 miles under water using nothing but a depth gauge and a compass to ger to the enemy boat.

+Every seal knows that under the keel, at the darkest moment is the time when you must be calm, composed, when all hour tactical skills, your physical power and all your inner strength must be brought to bear.

  1. Start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

+During Hell Week you spend 15hrs on a freezing mudflat

+The mud consumed each man until only his head was visible. The instructors said that we could leave the freezing mud immediately if just five people quit.

+The chattering of teeth and moans where so loud it was hard to hear anything else. Then one person started to sing. One voice became two and then became three until everyone was singing.

+Somehow the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

+One person can change the world by giving people hope.

  1. Don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

+Finally in Seal training there is a brass bell in the middle of the compound for everyone to see.

+All you have to do to quit is ring that bell.

+Ring that bell and you never have to wake up at 5am again. No more freezing swims. No more runs. No more PT. No more obstacle courses.

+Just ring that bell

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