On the 8th of September 2009, President Barack Obama held a speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, in which he stressed the importance of education. The speech was broadcasted nationally and students were tuning in all across America, kindergarten through 12th grade. His speech makes it very clear that you simply cannot quit school and skip classes because “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country”.
President Obama would like to motivate all the students who were listening and that feeling of importance, which the sentence above is showing, might be the exact motivator for that to happen. This paper will analyse and comment on the speech and focus on the way President Obama addresses his audience. The composition of the speech is pretty much straightforward and not problematic nor complex. It is started by a short presentation followed by the message of the speech, well-documented with different arguments which support each part of the message.
It ends with a short summary which sums it all up. This is a necessity given the fact that the audience is – as mentioned – students of all age. His language is very easy to understand and he doesn’t use neither imagery language nor hypotactic sentence structure where he referrers to something that isn’t mentioned. If this wasn’t the case, large parts of the audience might not understand the message the speech is trying to show, and the speech would be useless for them.
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Since the audience is a group of students – large amount in a small age - he tries to make himself likeable. This is seen in the anecdote about his own childhood and hard upbringing. Throughout the speech, President Obama takes great use of pathos as a persuasion mean which means that he appeals to both emotions and feelings: “And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up yourself. , President Obama is using pathos as the main way of persuasion since people are more likely to agree when they’re emotional. There are, however, several places where he appeals to ethos by expressing his own equality to the rest of the audience: “[…] how’s everybody doing today? ”, as he opens the speech in this way, he sets the scene and tries to get rid of his authority as the most powerful man in the world since no one likes to be talked down to. President Obama mentions all the different grades of the same reason; he doesn’t want to talk down to them.
President Obamas main point is that all students have to work hard in order to reach success and get a good education. Education is the only “real” way out of poverty, unemployment and trouble. His argument for this statement is that without an education and hard work, you can’t be something in life; jobs and money doesn’t come from nothing, even though several Hollywood-movies and TV-series might express that. Furthermore, he stresses the importance of responsibility.
Not only for your own actions, but also for the responsibility your teachers should to inspire you, your family to support you and make sure you stay on track, and the government’s responsibility for setting high standards and provide whatever it takes to raise the bar for educational standards. However, all of this doesn’t mean much if you don’t take the responsibility of yourself and your education. He describes how every single one of us has something to contribute: “Every single one of you has something to offer”.
Hereafter he even gives several examples of opportunities which might occur for someone who has found her/his hidden talent. This also referrers to the “don’t quit, don’t skip, stay in school” message he’s trying to embrace. The next part of the speech is once again used to make President Obama identifiable. He knows how hard life can be, since he himself had to break the negative heritage; his parents didn’t have an college education and didn’t have much, however, “That’s no excuse for not trying. ”, he says. There is, in fact no real excuse for quitting school.
He even mentions the American Dream in his speech which is based on the belief that everyone is their own happiness and future. He mentions 3 different people, who have been struggling; nevertheless, their future seems to be bright after their hard work! This is yet another motivator and proof for the people who think their background and personal issues sets them behind. Barack Obama uses a lot of different rhetorical techniques in order to create an environment in which his young audience feels comfortable in; furthermore, it makes his argumentation a lot more convincing.
In lines 164-165 he keeps repeating “I expect […]”, which sets the bars for the upcoming year. I believe he does this because he has an authority. As much as he tries to hide it, he also uses it. If it was a general John Doe who said “I expect this and that from you”, what purpose would it have? The audience wouldn’t listen! You could say that Barack Obama is a role model for a lot of people – if not a whole nation: he’s the first black president and worked his way up from nothing. President Obama is rying to make the distance between him - and his authority – and the audience as small as possible by making a lot of comparisons and relations. The words “I get it” and “I know” is not put there for no reason. By decreasing the gap between him and the audience, his authority is more in the background, and he is now a person whom you can relate to, and not the most powerful man on the world. In America, national sentiment isn’t very uncommon, and the responsibility which a lot of people feel toward their country is a mean to motivate people.
Therefore, the argument: “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country” is one powerful motivator. I feel that the speech is indeed influenced by American thinking, however, it all makes sense; even in my head. He stresses the importance of education, and that is something each and every country has a necessity to do; perhaps he has found the way to actually communicate the message?
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