Navy SEAL who oversaw the Osama bin Laden raid says 'Batman and Superman are not coming' in a speech advising college graduates to become their own heroes

Charles Dharapak/AP ImagesRetired Navy Adm. William McRaven.
  • Retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven, the commander who oversaw the military raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, called on recent college graduates to “save the world.”
  • In a speech to the graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said he initially prepared a speech that included “cute little anecdotes.”
  • “But somehow that speech just didn’t seem right in light of all that has happened in the past five months,” McRaven said during an online commencement address. “The fact that I am standing here alone, and you are isolated somewhere at home, is proof enough that the world has changed.”
  • “As I saw more of my fair share of war and destruction, I came to the hard truth that Captain America isn’t coming to the rescue,” McRaven said. “There is no Superman, no Batman, no Wonder Woman, no Black Widow … no Gandalf, no Harry Potter.”
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Retired US Navy Adm. William McRaven, the former head of US Special Operations Command and the commander who oversaw the military raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, told college graduates that they, not super heroes, must be the ones to “save the world” in an online commencement speech on Friday afternoon.

In a speech to the graduates of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, McRaven said he initially prepared a speech that included “cute little anecdotes” suggesting the “brilliant men and women of MIT are like the Navy SEALs of academia.”

“But somehow that speech just didn’t seem right in light of all that has happened in the past five months,” McRaven said. “The fact that I am standing here alone, and you are isolated somewhere at home, is proof enough that the world has changed.”

“After all these years, I came to realise that the heroes that we need are not the heroes that I’ve been searching for,” McRaven said. “But as I grew up and travelled the world, and as I saw more of my fair share of war and destruction, I came to the hard truth that Captain America isn’t coming to the rescue. There is no Superman, no Batman, no Wonder Woman, no Black Widow … no Gandalf, no Harry Potter.”

Despite the challenges facing the US and the world, McRaven said the graduates still had hope.

“If we are going to save the world from pandemics, war, climate change, poverty, racism, extremism, intolerance, then you, the brilliant minds of MIT, you are going to have to save the world,” McRaven added.

McRaven offered up several qualities that the students ought to have in life to “save the world” – qualities that transcended their academic accomplishments.

“Physical courage has long been the hallmark of a warrior. But I would offer that the moral courage to stand up for what’s right has an equal place in the pantheon of heroes,” McRaven said. “If you hope to save the world, you will have to stand by your convictions. You will have to confront the ignorant with facts. You will have to challenge the zealots with reason. You will have to defy the naysayers and the weak-kneed that have not the constitution to stand tall.”

McRaven added: “There will always be those who don’t want to hear your convictions, particularly if they are true. Speaking the truth can be dangerous. But those that came before you … those brilliant minds, those tellers of truth who made the world a more knowledgeable place, a more compassionate place, a more livable place – they had courage.”

Mcraven mattisEvan Vucci/APFormer Marine Corp Gen. James Mattis and McRaven.

McRaven also highlighted integrity and “always trying to do what is moral, legal, and ethical.”

“It will not be easy,” McRaven said. “And I dare say you will fail occasionally. You will fail because you are human. You will fail because life often forces you into an unseeingly untenable position. You will fail because good and evil are always in conflict.

“And when you fail to uphold your integrity, it should make you sick to your stomach. It should give you sleepless nights. You should be so tortured that you promise yourself never to do it again.”

McRaven concluded his roughly 10-minute speech with a request for the graduates.

“I want you to promise me one thing,” McRaven said. “Promise me that you will be the last class, the last class to miss a commencement because of a pandemic. The last class to miss a commencement because of war. The last class to miss a commencement because of climate change, unrest, tyranny, extremism, active shooters, intolerance, and apathy.”

McRaven added: “Batman and Superman are not coming to save the world. It will be up to you.”

McRaven has become a highly sought-after commencement speaker. In the past few years, he’s become a strident critic of President Donald Trump. In 2014, he spoke to the graduates of the University of Texas at Austin, his alma mater, where he advised them to perform the simple task: “Make your bed every morning.”

“You will have accomplished the first task of the day,” McRaven said. “It will give you a small 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.”

He added: “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. If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”

McRaven retired from the Navy in 2014 after 36 years of service as a Navy SEAL. He was hired as the chancellor of the University of Texas’ school system in 2015. In 2017, McRaven announced he would leave the school, citing health concerns.

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