University President Apologizes for Plagiarizing Remarks by Famous Navy SEAL McRaven

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William McRaven speaks with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during an interview in Austin.
In this photo taken Feb. 5, 2015, Retired Navy Admiral William McRaven speaks with Texas Tribune CEO Evan Smith during an interview in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Ricardo B. Brazziell)

University of South Carolina President Bob Caslen, the former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has admitted to plagiarizing remarks by retired Adm. William McRaven during commencement speeches at graduation ceremonies last week.

Caslen offered his resignation to the university's board over the weekend "if the board no longer had confidence [in] him serving, as every president serves at the pleasure of the board," university spokesman Jeffrey Stensland said in a statement to Military.com. The offer was not accepted.

In a statement provided by Stensland, Caslen admitted to quoting McRaven, one of the nation's best-known Navy SEALs who served as the ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and oversaw the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, without attribution. He called the omission an oversight.

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"I am truly sorry," Caslen said. "During my remarks in our weekend commencement ceremonies, I shared a well-known quote from Admiral William McRaven and failed to cite him as its original author and speaker. I was searching for words about resilience in adversity and, when they were transcribed into the speech, I failed to ensure its attribution. I take full responsibility for this oversight.

"I sincerely apologize to Admiral McRaven, someone I know and respect; our graduates; their families; and the entire university community for not leading by example," he added.

The remarks in question came near the conclusion of a commencement ceremony held at the university's Williams-Brice Stadium on May 7, according to a livestream of the ceremony on the university's Facebook page. After recognizing the newly commissioned ROTC officers and veterans of the graduating class, as well as honoring students who died during the year, Caslen offered the excited graduates some last words.

"Know that life is not fair and, if you're like me, you'll fail often," he said. "But if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down the cowardly bullies and lift up the downtrodden, and never, never give up -- if you do those things, the next generation and the generations to follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here today will indeed change the world for the better."

That passage is virtually identical to the conclusion of McRaven's commencement speech to the graduating class of 2014 at the University of Texas at Austin.

The Post and Courier newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina, reported that Caslen also delivered the plagiarized remarks during at least one other ceremony the following day.

It wasn't Caslen's only misstep during the commencement ceremony. He also congratulated the graduates as "the newest alumni from the University of California," arguably the more famous USC, drawing groans and scoffs from attendees.

Caslen inhaled sharply when he realized his error.

"I owe you push-ups," he told the crowd.

-- Stephen Losey can be reached at stephen.losey@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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