Rhetorical Analysis Of Commencement Speech By David Foster Wallace

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In 2005, David foster Wallace delivered a commencement speech to the graduates of Kenyon College, in which Wallace attempted to instill in his audience the mindset needed to cope with the monotony and frustration of adult life. He stresses the importance of being “conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience”. This speech has received critical praise and recognition for being one of the best commencement speeches of all time, but does it live up in terms of rhetorical technique? Although this main message is supported by Wallace’s excellent linguistic and persuasive abilities, and more specifically his appeals to ethos and pathos, his logos lacks the concrete reasoning …show more content…

In the speech, Wallace gives the speech characteristics such as humility, self awareness, and confidence. These traits contributes to his ethos and show his credibility in a way that no boring, intellectual-type commencement speaker ever could. He is frank, but not rude. He is intelligent, but very down to earth. These qualities are what sells his confidence in his speech. Also, Wallace’s puts no effort into censoring himself for the sake of pleasing everybody, often using profanity for emphasis, which further contributes to his self confidence. Also, I felt that his unique use of self-awareness shows off his knowledge and wisdom. He constantly calls himself out during his speech and acknowledges that his assumptions may be completely wrong. This is most evident when he states “A huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded.” This simple aspect of his speech not only makes him seems humble, but it allows the audience to know that he has considered the possibility of his own wrongness. He is aware that commencement speeches are often boring and are full of cliches; And by pointing it out, he demonstrates his ethos while simultaneously engaging the audience. This is most apparent when he says “this is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches, the deployment of didactic little parable-ish …show more content…

If I were to sum up Wallace’s main message, It would be along the lines of: Humans are naturally self-centered, but if you choose the way you think, you can overcome this. In other words, Wallace’s only reasoning to his claim is that humans are inherently bad and self-centered. This claim is hard to back up, especially since it cannot be supported a matter of simple facts or statistics. That being said, Wallace’s logical appeal relies solely on abstract metaphors and parables, without any concrete evidence as to why we should believe his claim. The basis of his logic relies solely on the assumption that humans, by default, believe they are the “center of the universe”. Although Wallace himself states that this is only an assumption and that he may be “totally wrong and deluded”, he fails to follow his own advice. This cynical ideology that humans are naturally selfish and evil contradicts his message of choosing to think with empathy and positivity. Overall, his claim is believable enough, but his logos is less than

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