Here is the full transcript of Admiral William H. McRaven’s inspiring 2014 commencement address at University of Texas at Austin. This event occurred on May 17, 2014. To learn more about the speaker, read the full bio here.
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William H. McRaven – Former United States Navy admiral
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, whom 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 memorable, I will at least try to make it short.
So the University’s 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 8000 students — graduating 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 changed the lives of just 10 people — and each one of those people changed 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 – 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 non-commissioned 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 these soldiers saved by the decisions of one person, but their children were saved. And their children’s children. Generations were saved by one decision, by 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 am confident that it will look much, much better. But if you will 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 the world around us — will apply equally to all.