Kenyon Commencement Speech: Analyzed

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Alexa McCombs
WR 121
Ms. Andre
Rhetorical Analyses of the Kenyon Commencement Speech

David Foster Wallace was a novelist and essayist. He delivered a commencement speech to liberal arts graduates at the Kenyon College in May of 2005. In the speech Wallace implores listeners to hear his words from a non-biased perspective for what they are; his words are not a reprimand to the selfish, but an offer to those seeking knowledge to broaden their perspective. Wallace warns against closed mindedness by using examples of his own experiences along with clichés, and the repeated idea that “…a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is teaching you how to think.”-(Wallace, 2005 Kenyon Commencement Speech). Wallace expands on that cliché, showing the audience that the need to be taught is not an insult to their intelligence, but a tool that can be used to broaden the mind and experience life to the fullest.

Wallace’s speech is directed to graduating liberal arts students; his intent is to send them off into the real world armed with a little wisdom and perspective. Starting out by .Wallace validates his opinions by stating that he himself was once a liberal arts student, thus knows what he’s talking about. Despite being an accomplished author, Wallace never presents himself as being superior to his audience. In this way he establishes a comfortable trust, which allows the listener or reader to hear his perspective without the need to feel threatened by it. Even the authors tone lacks a certain obvious persuasiveness; rather than assert his opinions as the right way, he quietly nudges the audience into understanding by appealing to the logic that it is better to live in a way that makes life easier than to live in a way that makes things harder on the individual. Wallace creates a clear comparison between just going along with the natural self-centeredness all humans are born with and the consequences of living in that way,...
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