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June 15, 2010
Critical Analysis of Barbara Bush’s Wellesley College Commencement Address
On June 1st, 1990, Barbara Pierce Bush delivered a Commencement Address at Wellesley College. Barbara Bush incorporated Monroe’s motivated sequence, Aristotle’s three appeals, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and several rhetorical devices to increase the effectiveness of her special occasion speech. Through its construction, she adapted to her audience, established creditability, lent advice and evoked emotion. Barbara Bush’s commencement address successfully honored and inspired the graduates of Wellesley College.
In the analysis of Barbara Bush’s commencement address it can be categorized as both a persuasive and special occasion speech. The functions of a special occasion speech “is to entertain, celebrate, commemorate, inspire or set a social agenda” (217, O’Hair). Specifically, her address is commemorative and inspirational as she not only honor’s the graduates of Wellesley College but motivates them through giving several examples of achievement. It’s her persuasive and inspirational words that motivated Wellesley’s graduates to envision a successful future. Furthermore, Barbara Bush integrates Monroe’s motivated sequence with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs as she discusses the graduates physiological, safety, social, self-esteem and self-actualization needs as a rhetorical tactic.
In the introduction, Barbara Bush successfully grabs the attention of her audience as she sparks interest, honors the occasion, establishes credibility and relates to her audience. Thus she fulfills the first step of Monroe’s motivated sequence. By opening with a thank you, Barbara Bush unites herself to her audience with ethics and a display of good character or ethos. Further appealing to the audience’s pathos she praises Wellesley for welcoming her, the college’s diversity, “natural beauty” and “spirit.” In order to effectively establish her thesis in commemorating Wellesley College, she provides a short anecdote full of imagery written by Robert Fulghum. The story, previously told by a student body president of a sister college, stresses the importance of embracing diversity. It focuses on a child’s idea of identity and perseverance as she views herself as a mermaid in a game that mermaids don’t exist. In using a story previously told by a student of a sister college Barbara Bush further unites herself with the students of Wellesley College. Barbara Bush quotes the student and simultaneously praises Wellesley for upholding this ideology when stating, “"Diversity, like anything worth having, requires effort -- effort to learn about and respect difference, to be compassionate with one another, to cherish our own identity, and to accept unconditionally the same in others. You should all be very proud that this is the Wellesley spirit.” Furthermore, Wellesley is an all- girl’s college. Barbara Bush, at several points throughout her speech caters to this knowledge as her stories are generally centered on women and their issues.
Before addressing the need step of Monroe’s motivated sequence, Barbara Bush utilizes humor and common jargon as a transition. She teases herself and jokes that the author of the Color Purple was the school’s first choice in speaking. The common jargon portion of this transition doesn’t resonate in her style of language but in appealing to the audience’s tradition by mentioning the importance of color in the schools customs. Barbara Bush identifies the graduates need as a search for their “true colors.” She continues her metaphor by comparing life to colors several times throughout this essay. This can be depicted in her statement “live a paint-by-numbers life.”
The core basis of her need and satisfaction step is addressed and outlined in her statement, “Decisions are not irrevocable. Choices do come back. And as you set off from Wellesley, I hope that many of you will consider making three very special choices.” These three stressed points include; getting involved in “the big ideas of our times,” enjoying life and cherishing human connections. All three of these points are supported by stories of Barbara Bush’s personal life as she appeals to the audience’s ethos and pathos. By sharing her own stories, utilizing humor and quoting the popular movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Barbara becomes more relatable to the audience which triggers their active listening skills. Furthermore, the topic choices of education, her husband, friendships, and family are not only topics that resonate with all people but are topics that are particularly associated with women. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is mostly addressed within the satisfaction and visualization step. Barbara Bush covers the audience’s social, self-esteem and self-actualization needs when addressing her three main points.
The visualization step in Barbara Bush’s commencement address is one of the most important steps in Monroe’s motivational sequence as it supports her need and calls the audience to act. While Barbara Bush includes intense imagery and examples throughout her speech, she doesn’t specifically utilize the visualization step until the end of her address. Barbara Bush not only discusses the graduate’s current positions in life but asks them to visualize their future. She portrays them as the future doctors, lawyers, CEOs, first wives and mothers of America. This conjures up pathos or emotion, inspiring the graduates to greatness. Barbara Bush shows historical progression for women when stating that, “For over fifty years, it was said that the winner of Wellesley's annual hoop race would be the first to get married. Now they say, the winner will be the first to become a C.E.O.” By providing a relatable fact, Barbara Bush appeals to the audience’s logos or logical outlook.
The basis of her visualizations stresses the importance of human connection and its relation to the future. Barbara Bush claims that the graduates have the power to change the future not only through themselves but through their children. This transition initiates Barbara Bush’s call to action in the final step of Monroe’s motivated sequence. Her final challenge for the graduates is to make “a new legend: the winner of the hoop race will be the first to realize her dream -- not society's dreams -- her own personal dream.” In closing Barbara Bush, leaves the audience with a thank you, ending her “conversation” and wishing the graduates a successful future. By calling her commencement address a “conversation” Barbara Bush establishes a connection with her audience one last time. This only further increases the effectiveness of her speech.
In detailed analysis of the construction of Barbara Bush’s Commencement Address at Wellesley College, it can be concluded that her speech was organized and written to its maximum effectiveness. Not only was her construction strong but her delivery was excellent. The delivery of her speech was clear with few vocal fillers, a comfortable tone, appropriate hand gestures, a steady pace and good eye contact. The humor in her speech was easily translated as well. Even though, she reads from her outline at times it doesn’t detract from the overall effectiveness of her delivery.
Overall, Barbara Bush’s Wellesley Commencement Address deserves to be in American Rhetoric’s top fifty speeches as her address was written and delivered successfully. In the construction of her special occasion speech Barbara Bush incorporates the stylistic elements of Monroe’s motivated sequence and Aristotle’s Appeals to satisfy the audience’s hierarchy of needs. Through her organized construction and delivery she adapts to her audience, evokes emotion and inspires Wellesley’s graduates.
O'Hair, Dan, Hannah Rubenstein, and Rob Stewart. A Pocket Guide to Public Speaking. Third ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2010. Print.
Eidenmuller, Michael E. "Barbara Pierce Bush: Commencement Address at Wellesley College." Americanrhetoric.com. American Rhetoric, 2010. Web. June-July 2010.
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