Sunday, October 2, 2011

Set your sights high.

I remember when I was in 8th grade, and Obama was running for president.

All the adults that would talk about him, whether or not they liked him as a presidential candidate, all raved over what an amazing public speaker he was. "Obama's speeches are wonderful to listen to." was what I heard from my social studies teacher.

At the time, I just accepted this. Yes Obama had a pleasant voice which made listening to him enjoyable, but I didn't really understand what made his speeches so fantastic. Now, thanks to AP Comp, I do.

In his speech, Obama uses a great deal of parallelism, as well as repetition and climactic order. He effortlessly combines these flourishes with ethos.

Because Obama is giving a speech in which he needs to motivate students, he uses repetition to get his point across and really make it stick in the students' minds. He repeats specific phrases, like "it means" to get the high schoolers thinking and evaluate their life in its current state, and how it will be in the near future. He also uses anaphora, repeating certain words. He says you need "question" and "explore" but he also uses we. This brings him down onto the level of his listeners, saying that he needs to be working hard just like them. This establishes his ethos. Obama uses parallelism almost throughout his whole speech, as he says what students, as well as Americans in general should be doing. This approach of no-nonsense, getting-things-done is very effective, because the way he presents it makes the listener think that if they can do one or two things on the list, they can do all of them. Climactic order is another flourish Obama uses. He starts off with talking about the students, how they're young and they may not know what they want right away, and then goes on to say how they will be the "future of America."

As mentioned before, Obama uses ethos when he includes himself in those people that need to be working hard to make the country better. He also establishes ethos when he talks about how when he was young, he did not want to be paying attention in school. This makes it easier for the listener to connect with him, and think something along the lines of "hey, i'm like that now. If he was like that then, and has been so successful, maybe I can do the same!" which makes that a great tactic that he used in his speech.

As I said before, Obama is known for his deep, rich voice that draws listeners in when he's giving speeches. Though he says in his speech that he is not there to lecture the students, but rather give them advice. When he speaks, it seems like a parent gently encouraging you to be the best you can be, rather than a parent looking at you with disappointment and yelling to do better in school. A majority of his sentences are very short and direct, but there are some long ones included here and there. Even when he includes long sentences, however, he makes sure to pause in the middle so that the listener is able to digest the statement, or nugget of advice he just gave.

One thing I really liked about his speech was the fact that from time to time there were "um"s and "uh"s, and he stumbled over what he was saying. This, for me at least, indirectly established ethos because it shows that even the President of the United States can get nervous and forget what he was going to say.

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