Barbara Bush’s address to Wellesley College graduates in 1990 has revealed significant inconsistencies in Bush’s ability to evaluate hostile audience. In the light of several critical remarks and the desire to address Wellesley audience on equal terms, Barbara Bush’s commencement address remains a bright example of one’s inability to perform a thorough rhetorical research before a speech is delivered to the target audience.
This might sound snobby, but Barbara Bush’s commencement speech at Wellesley did not produce the desired effect: for the audience, the speech has turned into an instrument of ironic evaluation of Bush’s rhetoric capabilities. Mrs. Bush started her speech with a special referral to Robert Fulghum’s story about pastor and a small girl who wanted to be a mermaid. “Now this little girl knew what she was and she was not about to give up on either her identity, or the game” (Bush).
Taking into account that Wellesley College is a purely female environment (female students only), Barbara Bush might have implied that women do have a chance to find their place under the sun; furthermore, women should be able to protect their position and views against all odds.
In reality, Barbara Bush was trying to emphasize the importance of diversity in education: dwarfs, giants, wizards and mermaids were used as metaphors and probably referred to different ethnic groups. “Diversity, life anything worth having, requires effort” (Bush).
Taking into account that 6% of Wellesley students are African Americans, and 26% are of Asian Pacific origin (Peterson’s Planner), Barbara Bush might have succeeded in embracing diversity issues in her speech, but she has evidently failed to make her speech humorous.
It is very probable that in her speech Barbara Bush forgot that she was speaking to women graduates. Wellesley graduates had passed a long way to getting Bachelor’s degree in arts; they were looking forward to finding their social place under sun.
For some unknown reasons, Bush has initially placed special emphasis on the importance of marriage and children for women, forgetting about their future professionalism and career growth. Although her referral to “children must come first” was very objective and correct, Bush seemed to speak about the importance of her own marriage, and not about those who were in front of her. Barbara Bush was trying to expand the boundaries of traditional female social vision: “for over fifty years it was said that the winner of Wellesley’s annual hoop race would be the first to get married.
[…] So I want to offer a new legend: the winner of the hoop race will be the first to realize her dream” (Bush). That passage could potentially become a very good ending of Bush’s speech, but it has only created another rhetoric controversy: the linguistic parallel between the hoop race and the future professional life opportunities for Wellesley graduates contradicted the previous “marriage-driven” set of Bush’s thoughts.
Public speeches are the instruments of evaluating one’s rhetoric abilities. Speeches are also the keys to one’s true identity. Barbara Bush’s commencement address to Wellesley graduate students is a bright example of how speeches should not be delivered. Various linguistic speech elements should be used appropriately to fit particular audience. Although Barbara Bush was trying her best to encourage Wellesley graduates, her speech has been a set of separate contradicting thoughts.
As a result, Bush’s speech has turned into the means of evaluating her weak abilities to speak to hostile audience.
Bush, B. P. “Commencement Address at Wellesley College”. 1990. American Rhetoric. 15 June 2008. http://www. americanrhetoric. com/speeches/barbarabushwellesleycommencement. htm.
Peterson’s Planner. “Wellesley College: Overview. ” 2008. Peterson’s Planner. 15 June 2008. http://www. petersons. com/ugchannel/code/InstVC. asp? inunid=9608&sponsor=1.
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