Admiral McRaven “Make Your Bed” Commencement Speech Transcript
Admiral William H. McRaven gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas often referred to as the “Make Your Bed” speech. It’s considered one of the best and more inspirational commencement speeches. Read the full transcript of McRaven’s May 19, 2014 speech right here at Rev.com.
Admiral McRaven: (00:00)
Thank you very much, thank you. Well, thank you president Powers, Provost Fenves, deans, members of the faculty, family and friends, and most importantly, the class of 2014, 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.
Admiral McRaven: (00:59)
So acknowledging that fact, if I can’t make this commencement speech memorable, I’ll at 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 or there are more than 8,000 students graduated from UT. So that great Paragon of analytical rigor ask.com 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.
Admiral McRaven: (01:59)
Think about it, over twice the population of United States go one more generation and you can change the entire population of the world. 8 billion people. If you think it’s hard to change the lives of 10 people change their lives forever, you’re wrong. I saw it happen every day in Iraq and Afghanistan. A young army officer makes a decision to go left instead of right down a road in Baghdad and the 10 soldiers with him are saved from a close in ambush. In Kandahar 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 IED saving the lives of a dozen soldiers. But if you think about it, not only were those soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children were saved and their children’s children, generations were saved by one decision, one person.
Admiral McRaven: (02:59)
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 might 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’ve 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.
Admiral McRaven: (03:53)
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 harassed 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 are the 10 lessons I learned from basic SEAL training that hopefully will be a value to you as you move forward in life.
Admiral McRaven: (04:44)
Every morning in SEAL training, my instructors who were 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 I did it right, the corners would be square, the covers would be pulled tight, the pillow 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.
Admiral McRaven: (05:13)
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 made 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 many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that the little things in life matter.
Admiral McRaven: (05:51)
If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. And if by chance 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 in a boat crews. Each crew is seven students, three on each side of a small rubber boat and one cox and to help guide the dinging. 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 8 to 10 feet high and it is exceedingly difficult to paddle through the plunging surf unless everyone digs in.
Admiral McRaven: (06:45)
Every paddle must be synchronized to the stroke count of the coxswain. 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 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 Goodwill of strangers and a strong coxswain 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 with little guys, the munchkin crew, we called them. No one was over five foot five.
Admiral McRaven: (07:42)
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 outran and out swam all the other boat crews. The big men in the other boat crews would 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 had 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.
Admiral McRaven: (08:38)
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’re put into starching your hat or pressing your uniform or polishing your belt buckle and it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find something wrong. For failing 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.
Admiral McRaven: (09:22)
You stayed in the uniform the rest of the day, cold, wet, and Sandy. There were many of 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 on appreciated. 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, get 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 metal.
Admiral McRaven: (10:15)
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 a 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 met 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 surfaces were likely, but at sometime during SEAL training, everyone, everyone made the circus list. But an interesting thing happened to those who were constantly on the list. Over time those students who did two hours of extras, calisthenics got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circuses built inner strength and physical resiliency. Life is filled with circuses.
Admiral McRaven: (11:15)
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 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 a 10 foot wall, a 30 foot cargo net, a barbwire 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 when my class began in 1977.
Admiral McRaven: (12:10)
The record seemed unbeatable until one day a student decided to go down the slide for life head first. 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 he had broken the record. If you want to change the world, sometimes you have to slide down the obstacles head first.
Admiral McRaven: (12:52)
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 of San Clemente are a breeding ground for the great white sharks. To pass SEAL training there are 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 of 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 are 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 he 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.
Admiral McRaven: (14:02)
As Navy SEALs, one of our jobs is to conduct underwater attacks against enemies shipping. We practiced 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 DEF 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 center line, and the deepest part of the ship.
Admiral McRaven: (14:56)
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 or 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, where 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.
Admiral McRaven: (15:38)
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 mudflats. The mudflats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slews, a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you. It is on Wednesday of hell week, which you paddle down in the mudflats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive this freezing cold, the howling wind and the incessant pressure to quit from the instructors.
Admiral McRaven: (16:12)
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 until 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 mudflat 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, chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud, it was hard to hear anything.
Admiral McRaven: (16:54)
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 and mud.
Admiral McRaven: (17:51)
Finally, 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 five 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.
Admiral McRaven: (18:33)
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 times, you’re the 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. And what started here will indeed have changed the world for the better. Thank you very much, hook ’em horns.