Last month, Dr. Kevin O’Connor, physician to the President of the United States, delivered a “charge for the graduates” — a brief commencement speech — to graduating students of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, where he is also an associate professor and senior medical advisor. Dr. O’Connor, who was appointed physician to then-Vice President Joe Biden in 2009, has remained the personal physician of the now-POTUS since that time. He was appointed the official physician to the President upon Joe Biden’s inauguration in January of 2021.
Dr. O’Connor is also one of the country’s handful of battlefield medical experts who have changed the face of combat medicine over the past two decades-plus, through the Committee on Tactical Combat Casualty Care (TCCC).
In his brief speech, Dr. O’Connor spoke to the graduates about “building their brand,” or becoming the professionals and humans they desire to become following the end of their formal education. By way of example, O’Connor recounted a story told by Navy SEAL Admiral (retired) Bill McRaven on St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah, Georgia, at a Hibernians Society dinner, “a few years back.” (Full disclosure: this author was also present for the dinner and speech.)
In his speech to the graduates, O’Connor recounted how McRaven spoke about being a young SEAL officer when he was assigned to the insular, and still relatively new, SEAL Team 6 in the early 1980s. At the time, ST-6 was commanded by the legendary (and infamous) Richard “Dick” Marcinko, the unit’s first Commanding Officer. Marcinko was known for all kinds of inappropriate, and at-times-illegal, behavior, as well as for running ST-6 in a bullying, capricious, and tyrannical style.
At one point early in McRaven’s time there, Marcinko attempted to humiliate McRaven through some asinine and pointless tasking, as Marcinko was wont to do at the command. By that point, however, McRaven professed that he had grown sick of such treatment — and Marcinko’s behavior — and he flat out refused to comply with Marcinko’s order.
McRaven ended up in a confrontation with Marcinko, and possibly even punched the ST-6 commanding officer square in the jaw. That last point is possibly apocryphal, and is not mentioned in McRaven’s book, “Sea Stories: My Life in Special Operations,” nor is the punch mentioned by Marcinko in the 2015 New York Times article, “SEAL Team 6: A Secret History of Quiet Killings and Blurred Lines.”
Marcinko does, however, discuss firing McRaven, essentially over the two having vastly different leadership styles.
McRaven was indeed fired from ST-6 for taking his stand against Marcinko, and subsequently fretted over the incident and what it would do to his still-burgeoning career. O’Connor told the story as a way of illustrating how McRaven — at the time — was not the Admiral Bill McRaven he would later become: Navy SEAL flag officer, special operations author and historian, National Security Council appointee, and Commanding Officer of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) when it executed the Osama Bin Laden raid.
No, then he was just Lieutenant McRaven, standing up to a bullying senior officer and refusing to accept things the way they were at SEAL Team 6 at that time.
In other words, McRaven was “building his brand.” O’Connor would go on to tell the graduates that he was not charging them with the responsibility of becoming “great,” as they built their own brands going forward. Rather, he was challenging them to be good.
“Honor where you came from by being and doing good,” he concluded.
Definitely words we can all live by.