We all have a responsibility, right? Well, the answer must be yes – at least recording to Barack Obama. The President of the United States of America, Barack Obama held this speech: Back to School on the 8th of September in 2009 at Wakerfield High School in Arlingtin, Virginia in context of the first day of school. He held this speech in order to discuss the importance and expectations of an education with the clear message of the responsibility you have to yourself followed by the sentence: “if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting in yourself, you’re quitting on your country”, which leaves the young Americans behind with a huge burden on their shoulders. Obama’s main purpose is to motivate the young Americans to take an education, so they are able to stand on his or her own feet. The interesting aspect in this speech is he that involves himself and explains his journey to reach his own destiny.
But how has he succeeded with this speech? That is what we will focus on in this assignment with focus on the way he addresses the issue to his audience and the values he suggests and furthermore discuss his message of the speech compared with The American Dream.
Politicians know how to give a speech and they are not accidental. This speech is filled with rhetorical devices, which most present politicians use in their speeches to achieve their political goals. The power of the spoken words were well known in the ancient times where the word had the power to influence the consciousness, emotions and feelings of an audience. President Barack Obama understands very well the power of the words, which he shows us in all of his speeches. Barack Obama frequently uses personal pronouns as “we” and “you” to make the audience an active participant of the event and to create a relationship between speaker and audience. Obama repeats the phrase “I’ve talked about your…”(p. 1 l. 20,22,23,26) which is a combination of words that he has used in other speeches. For an example he uses almost the same words in Obama’s race speech where he repeats the quote: “This time we want to talk about…” These phrases are used to emphasize that Obama and the audience together is pondering over the problems he raises and demonstrates and their thoughts and ideas are the same. The speech is written in a very directly language with no imagery and almost no metaphors either. The only metaphor used in the text is in a quote from Obama’s mother: “this is no picnic for me either, buster.”(p. 1 l. 16) The speech is therefore written with a serious purpose where the audience get the directly meaning of the words. It is clear to say that Barack Obama is using a directly, serious and political voice in this speech. This is also demonstrated in his way of using lists when making his points understandable for all ages: “And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school…”(p. 1 l. 4-5) When he speaks, he tries to inculcate some very strong and meaningful words into the young people’s mind. Words like “responsibility”, “expect”, “work hard” and “education” are mentioned plenty of times in his speech. He repeats a lot of the words and builds up the sentences by beginning with a phrase and repeating it throughout the last part of the sentence. An example could be the seventh part on page 4: “You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher….And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try”. He uses “you won’t” in this part three times, and it is kind of the “foundation” of that part, and it supports his points and messages. So this repeating gives his words more meaning and substance. He wants the receivers to get his points and to stay focused on the most important things and words he says. It gets easier to understand what he wants and what he expects. In order to reach out to his audience, Obama also uses mainly two forms of appeal – ethos and pathos. First off all he uses a large amount of ethos, talking about his own experiences and his own childhood and life. He is talking to a very young audience and in order to catch their attention, he has to be on the same level. ”I know that feeling. When I was young..”(l. 10). He uses ethos in a way that makes the listeners able to identify themselves with Obama, which makes him seem trustworthy to us. Along the way this is a very good thing, so people do not see Obama as a controlling powerful president, but as a man who is equally the Americans. Obama also reaches out to his audience by using pathos, and mentioning values that are very important to Americans: “It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other” (l. 153-157). By including things that are very important to Americans in his speech, he manages to earn their full attention, and create somewhat a national feeling. It’s a cheap trick, but it is definitely working. Obama is really trying to reach his audience’s feelings and make them feel together. Another reason why he does this is because he is talking to a young audience. Using logos in his arguments wouldn’t work on such a young audience, seeing they have most likely no interest in politics and what has to do with politics. Therefor he reaches out to them by using pathos and ethos.
However, in what way is Obamas speech connected the American Dream? As a liberal politician, Barack Obama has a huge focus on one as an individual. It is important to him that every American learns how to stand on their feet, but still be able to walk forward together. He mentions hard work a lot of times, which reflects the American dream – to achieve something. A huge part of Obamas speech reflects the idea of The American Dream. The work ethic that Obama presents sounds like the work ethic there is behind The American Dream. The difference is just; this might not be your dream Obama is presenting. Not in the same way, as it was your biggest dream you want to achieve, so you are going to miss motivation, which is what Obama wants to create with his speech. The American Dream is more a individual project in contradiction to what Obama says: ”Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country “ (l.148-149)”, and points out the changes and opportunities you have to grab to hold on. Like The American Dream Obamas speech concerns your individual presentation and it is you, who writes your own destiny – you choose your own future.
So our conclusion is, that Barack Obama’s main question is: “What will you achieve in life”. Not if you want to achieve something but what. His speech is a request to young Americans to take an education, and in order to reach his young audience he appeals to their trust and emotions and points very directly; you have a responsibility, so take it.