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rhetorical analysis

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Brooklynn Giancaterino
Rhetorical Analysis David McCullough Jr., the son of a Pulitzer Prize winning historian, was a teacher at Wellesley High School. In June of 2012, he made a speech at the commencement ceremony for the graduating class of Wellesley High School. On this day, he gave these teenagers a very unexpected reality check. The argument of this speech is that each and every one of them students is pretty much just another statistic in our harsh real world. Throughout this speech, he gives statistics of the depressing realities of life. He also tells them repeatedly that they are “not special”. In the beginning of the speech, he starts out by addressing the people in which he is speaking to, such as faculty, graduating students, members of the board of education, and also family and friends. The speech is started out to be very standard, until he starts to go into a rant describing how the groom in wedding’s do not have any part in the wedding planning process. When reading the beginning of this speech, the first thing I thought of was his use of an emotional appeal on the audience. He uses pathos the entire beginning of his dialect by trying to enchant the emotions of his male audience. His only reasoning for actually using this idea of males not being involved in the wedding process is by saying that the children and their diplomas will be together ‘till death do them part’. Although I feel as if this is not a very logical approach to trying to get the listeners attention, it was most likely very effective. McCullough then continues his use of pathos in his rant by going through the different stereotypes of teenagers and basically pokes fun at the graduating class. He uses the terms, “spray tanned prom queen” and even “x-box assassin”. Using these terms, in my eyes, was intended to be humorous. Although McCullough may have tried to give some sense of comic relief, I do not think the audience had taken it that way. This is somewhat an emotional appeal because of the fact that he is trying to make the children relate to what he is saying. Throughout all of the times in this speech that the speaker tries to use pathos, the most drastic and surprising was when he exclaimed, “none of you are special”. This was the line that put this man in the newspapers, in articles, and even in magazines. McCullough also attempts to use logos throughout the speech. He tells the children about the mere fact that there are 3.2 million other students on that very day also graduating from 37,000 different high schools. He goes on and on giving a vast amount of large numbers and fake statistics about the number of jocks and pairs of uggs also affiliated with that day. Ultimately, he attempts to use a logical appeal, but there is no possible way that he would know these exact numbers. He has no hard evidence. The speaker also uses a logical appeal by giving quotes from notable people in history. He uses a quote by saying, “But Dave, Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection!” He then continues to say that if everyone is special, then no one is actually special. McCullough goes through the facts that if everyone was rewarded for the little things that they have done, then rewards wouldn’t really count for anything. This speech is extremely confusing because the speaker does not keep one specific style throughout his speech to these graduating students. He starts off with somewhat of a humorous approach, then very quickly tries to strike an emotional nerve in the audience. He pokes fun at the audience so much throughout this speech that it quickly goes from bad to worse. He tends to refer to the fact that the children have been catered to their entire lives a lot. He uses the term “mommy” a plethora of times that, in my eyes, degrades the children on a day in which they should feel mature. In one part of his speech he claims, “Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped.” In my eyes, this type of dialect is very inappropriate for this specific day. I feel as if this speech should have been more empowering and making children look forward to their future. McCullough’s speech is not, in any way, organized in a way that is easy to understand. It is very jumbled and feels as if the speaker is ranting, raving, and complaining about issues and things that have nothing to do with a high school graduation. He does not talk about issues in a specific sequence. The only relation that the entire speech has to each other is the fact that he consistently complains. It is completely inappropriate to make the children feel as if they are just a sad number in the harsh and depressing statistics of the real world. Throughout reading this paper, I realized that David McCullough did not write this with a “bad taste in his mouth”, but rather tried to prepare these students for the harshness of our cold and cruel world. His argument, which was that each student was just a number in statistics that make the world a bad place, could have genuinely have been true. However, he did not execute his argument well, nor did he support his claims with facts. McCullough was given a bad reputation for this speech, although he could be the voice in the back of these children’s minds that encourages them to make the best of their lives.

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