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Rhetorical Analysis of Bono's Commencement Speech

In: English and Literature

Submitted By AmberBorgersen
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Bono Rhetorical Essay

Rock Star and AIDS activist, Bono, in his commencement speech to the ’04 class of UPENN (entitled “Because We Can, We Must”) explains that since we are able to, we should find a cause and fight for it. Bono’s sole purpose is to inspire the UPENN graduates to make a difference in this world.. He adopts an informal tone in order to connect with and motivate his primary audience, the graduates, and to engage his secondary audience, the family (parents, grandparents, etc.) of the graduates.

Bono begins his speech by explaining why he is at UPENN giving this speech and by sharing a personal anecdote (a pattern that is seen throughout his speech). His first sentence is a simple, declarative statement, “My name is Bono, and I am a rock star.” He opens with this kind of sentence to not only catch the attention of the audience, but to also establish his informal tone which is continued throughout the entire speech. His use of first person also makes the essay in entirety more relatable. While contemplating why someone like him was being honored with the title Doctor of Law and allowed to give a speech, Bono compares the situation to “[a] King Charles spaniels in little tartan sweats and hats” claiming “it’s not natural.” This self-deprecating statement is effective in establishing an informal tone because it sets Bono up to be seen as equal, to anyone sitting in there listening to him. He goes on to share a story about how he came to realize his passion for music and realize his passion for change. He states, “…music was an alarm bell for me, it woke me up.” This metaphor both personifies music, but also makes clear the importance of music in his life. Throughout the rest of the anecdote Bono is able to combine informal tone, to relate to his audience, and use erudite language, such as the word “sartorial”, to acknowledge the high intelligence level of his primary audience.

Bono rhetorically asks and repeats the question “What are you doing here?”, to transition from his introductory bit, to his main body where he explains his subject: the need to find a cause and fight for it, because we can. He follows this intellectually deep question by a humorous relief, referring to a school where Kermit the Frog gave a commencement speech. He uses the word “ass” humorously in such as way that would typically be inappropriate in a commencement speech, but here works towards Bono’s purpose: to create an informal bond between him and his audience so that he can inspire them to do as he did, and fight for a change. His metaphor, comparing the trade of “ideas” and “change” to “moral capital…intellectual capital” you buy, trade, and sell in a “marketplace of ideas”, is to provoke thoughts within the minds of the audience, to make them think about what they are going to spend they’re like fighting for. The syntax of the section also makes a noticeable change in that, the beginning paragraphs were full and descriptive, whereas now Bono has turned to short declarative paragraphs. Within these shorter paragraphs, Bono makes his points plain and clear, that there are moral blind spots in every generation and we must do something about it.

Elaborating on this idea, he moves on to share another personal story about an experience he had while in Ethiopia saying, “I walked away from that man, but I never really walked away from it” successfully appealing to the emotions of his audience. This ethos is also used to explain Bono’s reason for finding his “cause”, AIDS. The repetition of the phrase, “That’s not a cause, that’s an emergency” is used to emphasize the need to help where we can and through it we can see his passion that he is trying to imprint upon the graduates.

Bono concludes his essay with again, informal phrases, and a blunt rebuttal that relates to his main idea. He explains how he once thought the future was “fixed”, but goes on to say, “But it’s not. The future is not fixed, its fluid.” These frank refutations are used by Bono to convey the message to his audience that they can make a change that they can make a difference and should for that matter. His final statement of his speech is effective in way that a concluding statement should be, it is declarative and purposeful stating, “…This is the time for bold measures. This is the country, and you are the generation. Thank you.” This clear statement of his purpose not only makes it obvious to the graduates, but makes a lasting impression on their mind, leaving something memorable, not to be forgotten.

As a Rock star and advocate of AIDS (and now Doctor of Law), Bono is able to use his past experiences and informal je ne sais quoi to persuade the graduates to “betray the age”, and make a difference in their world.…...

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