Commencement Address By George Saunders: Speech Analysis

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”Commencement Address” is a speech by American writer and professor in English, George Saunders, who delivered the speech at a graduation at Syracuse University in New York in May 2013. The overall theme in the text is the importance of kindness and the main point is that you have to work hard to be kind, but at the end, it will be the most rewarding thing to do in your life. He starts this theme of, by explaining that his only regret in life is “failures of kindness”, and follows by reflecting on his views on kindness. This includes that being kind is hard because we are born focusing on ourselves, how being kind gets easier with age and that working towards success is good, but that kindness should always be in the back of your mind.
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The fact that he is a professor is of course important, but in this case, it does not play as big of a role as it usually would. This is not an academic text full of facts that has to be correct but a more emotionally driven text. Here one of the most important factors is that he is a middle-aged man who has actually lived through the things he is speaking of. Sharing embarrassing stories, like the following, also have great effect, “Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, […] seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, […] And getting deathly ill afterwards […]”. This strengthens his ethos, as it makes him more relatable to the audience, which would not be the case, had he been a perfect and polished professor.
Pathos is the form of appeal that is used the most. First of all by using the story about “Ellen”, where we feel very sorry for her, or maybe even have known someone like her, and second of all by the theme itself, as the theme of wanting to be a kinder person, probably is a topic that many people have thought about, and relate to. Logos is not that visible in the speech, but is still present because he several times displays knowledge of different historical subjects such as Darwinism, Shakespeare and
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