Conan O'Brien Commencement Speech Analysis

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ENGL101 Final
May 15, 2012

Invention

Conan O’Brien gave his commencement speech at Dartmouth in 2011, congratulating the graduating class and imparting a few words of wisdom.During his speech, he appealed mostly to pathos and ethos, being as this was a commencement speech, there wasn’t very much need to appeal to logos using stats or facts. He used pathos to appeal to the graduating students by telling about his falling out with NBC and how he came back to fame with his talk show on TBS. He said “I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that’s okay.” When saying that, he was telling them that it’s okay to be faced with failure or a change of plans, that it’s not the end of the world. He talked about failure and whether you fear it, or not, you will at some point be faced with disappointment. Through the use of his personal stories of struggle, failure, and success, he appeals to the emotions. But even throughout these stories, he would still sometimes slip in a humorous line to keep it light hearted and not too gloomy, which a commencement speech should all but not be. Through the use of his own personal stories about failure, and the references to other comedians, he builds his credibility. He talks about how great comedians have strived to be like the comedians they looked up to, and each failing to become like that role model, but with this failure they inevitably defined themselves and who they were. He then goes on to say “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.” Here, he appealed to the students by saying that when they are faced with what seems like failure, if they handle it right, they can turn that failure into something good and help redefine themselves or go on to be greater than before. Conan also appealed to ethos, building his credibility, speaking of his failure, and then success. He says “Ultimately, I abandoned all preconceived perceptions of my career path and stature … I did a lot of silly, unconventional, spontaneous and seemingly irrational things and guess what … it was the most satisfying and fascinating year of my professional life.” “To this day I still don’t understand exactly what happened, but I have never had more fun, been more challenged, and—this is important—had more conviction about what I was doing.” His examples helped support his main messages that it’s okay that your dreams will change, and that you will not always end up where you thought you would. But “through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity, comes conviction and true originality.” From what he told the audience about his own successes and failures, he becomes credible and able to back up the advice he is imparting on the graduating students.

Organization

To begin his speech, Conan O’Brien speaks off the cuff and makes a joke about the cold weather of New Hampshire, followed by another joke saying “behind me sits a highly admired President of the United States and decorated war hero while I, a cable television talk show host, has been chosen to stand here and impart wisdom. I pray I never witness a more damning example of what is wrong with America today.” He jokes about how a great man, once the leader of our nation and a war hero, was sitting directly behind him, but instead he, an ordinary cable television comedian and talk show host had been chosen to be the one to share some words of wisdom and encouragement to the students. Through his use of jokes and self-deprecating humor in his introduction, he drew the audience’s attention. His speech didn’t seem to have a very strict, set structure, but it flowed well. He opened up with a joke to draw in the crowd, and then continued into the body and pretty much the bulk of the speech with...
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