Rhetorical Analysis of Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address
Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address to graduating class of 2005 at Stanford University is a wonderful example of how rhetorical devices should be used when giving a speech. In his address, Jobs aims to connect with his audience by using humor, personal experiences, and reflections throughout his life along with many other rhetorical devices. He also appeals to the ethos, pathos, and logos of his audience to strengthen his argument and urge them to pursue their dreams even if things don’t go according to plan. Jobs is able to express his message of not settling for anything and to strive to achieve happiness and fulfillment.
Steve Jobs begins his commencement address by appealing to the emotions of his audience when he compliments the graduates of Stanford University by stating that “I’m honored to be with you today for your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world.” Soon after, he claims that he never graduated college and that being on that stage was the closest thing he will ever get to a college graduation. By sharing these two statements, Jobs establishes a sense of pathos by showing his humbleness and makes the audience feel very accomplished for their achievements of graduating from Stanford. Later in his address, Jobs uses pathos, again, to tell of his cancer diagnosis and to make the most out of your life before you die.
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After his short introduction, Jobs lays out the structure of his speech by saying, “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories.” This simple structure helps the audience understand and follow his stories with relative ease. In the first of three stories, Jobs shares how his “biological mother was a young, unwed graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption.” He also talks about his adoptive parents and how they saved all their money to send Jobs to college which eventually resulted in Jobs dropping out. By including this anecdote and the anecdote of his adoptive parents not being college graduates and of himself dropping out, it shows the audience that success is not limited to anyone and that you don’t have to be the most privileged to reach success. Hard work and dedication to your craft can lead to great things. Near the end of the first story, Jobs includes some humor to lighten the mood when he describes his path to success and to the creation of the Mac. He claimed that “If I had never dropped in on that single course [the calligraphy class] in college, the “Mac” would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.”
Jobs provided logos in his address when he described the hardships faced when he was struggling with what to do with his life. He faced tough times after dropping out of Reed College. Jobs exclaimed, “It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms. I returned coke bottles for the five cent deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple.” By telling the graduates of his struggle, he is trying to relate to his audience in any way possible. Additionally, if Steve Jobs can overcome so much hardship, the smart graduates of Stanford University can too. Near the end of the first story, Jobs uses antithesis to explain his idea. He says, “Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever — because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.” Jobs uses this to develop the meaning of his story and to transition to story number two.
In story number two, about love and loss, Jobs aims to build more ethos into his story and he does it well because he is credible source on going through failure and rebounding to greater success afterwards. He starts by talking about what he loves and how he and his friend, Woz, “started Apple in my parents’ garage when I was 20.” He goes on to explain how he and Woz worked hard and after ten years, they had built Apple into a two-billion-dollar company with over four thousand employees. By doing, Jobs lays out his credibility in a way that showed his brilliance to see how he was able to turn Apple into a multibillion-dollar company. Additionally, Jobs provides ethos in his address by telling his audience everything on how he was fired from Apple and “tried to apologize for screwing up so badly” to David Packard and Bob Noyce. This shows the audience the mistakes he has made and that everyone makes mistakes and it’s up to themselves on how they recover from them. His tremendous success after recovering from past failures (starting NeXT and Pixar) shows that adversity makes people stronger. His life went well when starting Apple, took a bad turn after being fired from Apple, and then became better after starting NeXT, Pixar and eventually returning to Apple. The struggle Jobs faced establishes his ethos because he knew what it was like to be fired, to lose everything he built and to recover. This allows his audience to learn how true success can be achieved even if they obstacles arise, and Jobs is perfect to tell about the ups and downs of life.
Near the end of his second story, Jobs used repetition very well to emphasize his ideas of not settling and always staying hungry in life. He says, “If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking — and don’t settle.” This repetition emphasizes his idea of never settling for anything and to always work to get better. And, at the end of the speech, he repeats the phrase, “Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.” This phrase is a great way to use repetition to further Jobs’ ideas and it perfectly summarizes the theme of his Commencement Address. Jobs wants the graduates to never settle, always aim to learn new things and push themselves to face new challenges.
Steve Jobs’ Commencement Address to the Stanford graduates of 2005 should be seen as a masterpiece on how rhetorical devices should be incorporated in a speech. His use of ethos, logos, and pathos along with repetition, humor, etc. help him accomplish his goal of explaining his message. Through this address, Jobs is able to deliver his message to never settle and strive for excellence in a very effective way for his audience to grasp and understand.