As the end of every college student’s four years in college comes to an end and the joy and relief of graduation approaches, so does the commencement speech that comes with it. The commencement speech has become its own genre, filled with advice given from influential speakers. The very beginning of commencement speeches were less about outside speakers like our current ones, and focused on the students themselves. The graduates would give orations in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin as well as “disputations,” formal academic debates on philosophic questions (. Well known politicians have been giving commencement speeches for centuries. The first commencement speech with a politician was Harvard’s first commencement in 1642, given by Massachusetts Governor John Winthrop. In the past view decades, there has been a large amount of celebrities who speak at graduations. These numbers have grown over the past few decades and include speeches from businesspeople to humorists.
Though the genre of a commencement speech has evolved over the years, like every genre in literature, there are still guidelines that a commencement speech is expected to follow. A commencement speech is given by a speaker; more often than not, by a graduate, celebrity, or politician. The speech is often written to celebrate past experiences, present accomplishments, and hopeful thoughts of the future. Depending on the speaker, the overall content of the speech may vary, but what does not is the message it carries. The speech has to leave the fellow graduates feeling motivated and ready to be successful after their graduation. Ideally, the commencement ceremony is focused on reminiscing on the past, and looking ahead at the future. There is a common “Past- Present Future” () structure that is adopted by some of the speakers. This structure involves the idea that though the past is bygone, it will become a beneficial resource in the future.
In May of 2004, Bono gave a very memorable and influential commencement speech to the graduating class of University of Pennsylvania. Bono delivered his personal ideas and life story, directing the students to resolve the underlying conundrums. Bono narrates his time in Africa which seemed to shape his morals of today. He praises the nationality of American and the idea we have that there is “no problem we cannot fix”, where he leads to the idea that the graduates should take this idea into their life and do what they can. Bono points out that the university has prepared them to tackle enormous issues of the century including poverty, government corruption, and global warming. His main message turns to be for the students to “betray the age” and “provoke revolutions and to investigate and tackle the issues using creativity.” Because of the unique education they received, is why they should go about the world problems in an incongruous way.
While Bono was giving his speech, he had to take into consideration his audience, which helped shaped the main idea. The University of Pennsylvania is located in Philadelphia and is a private Ivy League established in 1753. The university is known to be a pioneer in education and was the first university in North American to establish schools and departments of medicine, botany, business, research medicine, and graduate medicine; a university hospital; and a psychological clinic (Pennsylvania). Bono, as the speaker, could deduce from this information that as a pioneer in education, the University of Pennsylvania is a very well known and prestigious college. For the class of 2004 (Pennsylvania) statistics show that admission was extremely competitive. The average SAT score for the admitted students who were admitted was a 2140, which in 2004, only 11 percent of students in America received a score that high. The average GPA is a 3.93. All of these statistics are things Bono had to take into consideration when writing his speech. They inform Bono that the graduates are very intellectual and well rounded students. Therefore, he shapes his speech to sound more appealing to the well educated graduates. He uses references such as “”
Bono (known as Paul David Hewson) on May 10th, 1960 in Dublin Ireland. What the majority of the audience will know him for, is his involvement in the band U2. He joined the band while still in highschool, and their album “The Joshua Tree” is what led them to becoming international stars (). He had been known to use his celebrity status to bring attention to key social issues around the world. He had spoken on several important global problems such as world poverty and AIDS. Throughout U2’s career, Bono has written most of the band’s lyrics. Most of which are focused on untraditional themes such as politics and religion. He claims that “social activism has always been close to his heart”, using his music to raise consciousness with performances at Band Aid, Live 8, and Net Aid. () This information might lead the audience to acknowledge that Bono isn’t just your everyday Irish singer, but that he is knowledgeable in a wide range of ideas and is an involved activist. However, if the audience hasn’t listened to a lot of his songs, they may expect him to be a regular singer, which could mislead their expectations of the speech.
The outline of a typical commencement speech is pretty basic and straightforward. Bono’s speech is neither. He starts out his speech almost sounded self absorbed, using pronouns that point to himself such as “I”, “My”, which automatically leave an imprint on the audience. This is a drift from the norms of the genre, whereas the commencement speech is usually started with a thank you to the college, congratulations to the graduates, or at least some sort of acknowledgement to the staff. In Bono’s speech (see in the first 2 paragraphs), he focuses on himself. This is a crucial part to the genre of commencement speeches, because it is the initial impression that the audience has for the speaker. Having the thought that Bono is more concerned about himself then the audiences big achievement, is not what the genre of commencement speeches is known for. With high standards for the speech itself, Bono certainly took an abnormal route in his introduction.
At the time of Bono’s speech, the world was currently in shock over the war that was in place between the United States and Iraq. This event had the attention of people all over the world, and had everyone’s eyes on the actions of the political leaders to see what action would be taken in response of the war. He began his speech by introducing past instances in history that led the world to feel so vulnerable and in shock as the war did. Bono quickly took the form of a professor, and began to lecture the students of these events. He developed this relationship, because it was something the audience was familiar with, and was how he was going to portray his message. Bono references of one of his favorite poets named Brendan Kennelley quoting him “If you ever want to serve the age, betray it” (paragraph 8). Using the reference to the poem, is what adapts the professor-student relationship between Bono and the audience. He wants the audience to take his examples that he uses the rhetorical device Epicrisis. He refers to the lengthy Supreme Court Decision Brown vs. Board of Education. Saying “American sees this now but it took a civils rights movement to betray their age” (paragraph 8)