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Mark Alexander / May 28, 2014

The Speech Every Graduate Should Hear

A SEAL With the Real Deal

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.” –Thomas Jefferson (1820)

Predictably, every year in May, there are keynote speakers who are bullied from commencement schedules, uninvited because some Leftist campus cadre has decreed that the speaker does not fully comport with their ill-informed worldview.

The most notable of those kicked to the curb this year was George W. Bush’s Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was subject to a high-profile protest of 0.09% of the student body at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

Rice, whose résumé includes tours as a professor of political science and provost at Stanford University (a far more distinguished institution than Rutgers by all accounts and every measure), respectfully withdrew her acceptance of the invitation so as not to detract from the graduation ceremony. Got that – Rice withdrew because she did not want her appearance to dominate what should be a day of celebration for graduates.

Thus, a small group of ideologically intolerant vermin and their Rutgers’ Faculty Council sponsors denied Rutgers graduates an opportunity to hear from a distinguished political scientist and diplomat – a black woman who grew up materially impoverished in the segregated South, whose childhood friend was among those murdered in the infamous Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham; who graduated from college Phi Beta Kappa at age 19; who performed as a concert pianist at the Kennedy Center; and who became the first woman to serve as our nation’s National Security Advisor.

Bravo, Rutgers.

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However, amid the commencement rejections, there was one commencement speech that was successfully delivered, and that every graduate should read.

A North Carolina native and distinguished ‘77 NROTC alumnus from the University of Texas returned to his alma mater last week to share a few words of advice with the 8,000 graduates of the class of 2014.

His name is William H. McRaven.

He is now Admiral, United States Navy, and Commander, U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base. He previously served as Commander, Joint Special Operations Command, is the former Commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group 1 and Commander of SEAL Team 3. Notably, Adm. McRaven organized and executed Operation Neptune Spear, the spec-ops raid that killed Osama bin Laden on 02 May 2011.

Suffice it to say that Adm. McRaven knows a bit about the challenges of life and how to succeed.

He began his remarks by recalling, “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, whom I later married (gesturing to his wife, Georgeann Brady McRaven), and I remember that 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 that evening and I certainly don’t remember anything they said. So … acknowledging that fact – if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I will at least try to make it short.”

What follows is a summary of his advice to graduates about how to change the world. (The full text of his remarks can be read here, and viewed here.)

Adm. McRaven noted, “The University’s slogan is, 'What starts here changes the world,’” and added, “Here are the ten lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be of value to you as you move forward in life.”

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

  2. If you want to change the world, find someone to help you paddle.

  3. If you want to change the world, measure a person by the size of their heart, not the size of their flippers.

  4. If you want to change the world, get over being a sugar cookie and keep moving forward.

  5. If you want to change the world, don’t be afraid of the circuses.

  6. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacle headfirst.

  7. If you want to change the world, don’t back down from the sharks.

  8. If you want to change the world, you must be your very best in the darkest moment.

  9. If you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud.

  10. If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.

Of that last entry, McRaven explained, “In SEAL training there is a bell. A brass bell that hangs in the center of the compound for all the students to see. 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.

Again, "If you want to change the world, don’t ever, ever ring the bell.”

Regarding the applicability of these 10 lessons, he said, “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 the world around us – will apply equally to all.”

Adm. McRaven closed with these words: “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 when the times are toughest, face 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 have today.”

Footnote: In Condoleezza Rice’s absence, P.J. O'Rourke offered Rutgers this commencement address!

Pro Deo et Constitutione – Libertas aut Mors
Semper Fortis Vigilate Paratus et Fidelis

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