Most people think that their goal in life is to be perfect. They strive for the best grades, to be the best one on the sports’ team, get the most scholarships, go to the best college, and to get the highest paying job. In reality, aiming for perfection only leads to downfall. When a person strives for perfection the only thing that can happen is disappointment. Since no one in life is truly perfect, goals will not be met, and disappointment will have to be faced. In her speech Commencement Speech at Mount Holyoke College, Anna Quindlen explores the topic of perfection and how striving for it can put a damper on life. By using rhetorical devices and appealing to pathos, Quindlen is able to effectively drive her point home.
This commencement speech was meant to be a wakeup call to all people who aim for perfection their whole lives, and to inform them that it is no way to live a good life. Quindlen believes that when a person strives for perfection they begin to conform to society. She wants all people to challenge the boundaries that society has in place for them. By challenging those boundaries it is possible to achieve a different form of perfection that is unique to everyone. Finally, Quindlen emphasizes her point by expressing that people should live life so that it makes them happy. If people are too busy worrying about what other people will think of them, there’s no time left in the day for them to truly experience life. In order to live life to its fullest people need to learn to cast their fears, doubt, guilt, and shame out the window and just go with the flow. Striving for perfection can only lead to a treacherous trek.
Everything in life has a purpose: from sports, to school, to writing. When it comes to this speech Quindlen knew that she was addressing a group of women graduating from college, because of this she was able to relate to them on a personal level. She wanted to share the message of how struggling with perfection is no way to live life. By using a personal anecdote she was able to develop a deeper connection with her entire audience. In doing so she was able to make the audience more aware of their actions and their viewpoint on life. She also uses it as a way to pass on her wisdom, and to inspire and encourage her audience to reflect on the way they tackle life. When her speech comes to an end she challenges the audience to make a change in their lives. She wants them to think about how they can become happier people by changing the small things in life.
Qunidlen delivers her message in an extremely effective manner. She uses a very effective metaphor about a backpack being full of bricks. She states, “Eventually being perfect, day after day, year after year, became like always carrying a backpack filled with bricks on my back. And oh, how I secretly long to lay my burden down.” By using this metaphor Quindlen was able to relate the way she was feeling into something tangible so that the audience could grasp exactly the way that she was feeling. Everyone knows how heavy a brick is, which makes it easier for the audience to comprehend the message that she was trying to convey. Quindlen is also able to effectively get her point across because her speech is succinct. When a speaker gives an extremely drawn out speech it becomes easy to lose the audience. If the audience loses their ability to focus, everything that the speaker is saying becomes irrelevant, and their purpose lost. By keeping her speech short and to the point the audience was able to fully grasp the message she was trying to convey, while keeping their interest. Finally, she uses academic diction. When using words such as zeitgeist, hubris, conical, and myriad she is able to establish a deeper connection with her audience. Since the audience was full of educated soon-to-be college graduates, they were able to understand and appreciate her vocabulary. This connection can be described as somewhat esoteric because “average” people would not get the full meaning out of her speech if they did not understand the context of those words. Because of her use of relatable metaphors, her ability to be concise, and the use of academic diction Quindlen is able to effectively get her point across to the audience.
Why does any of this even matter? What made Quindlen get up and give a speech about what makes the good life? For one, she wanted to make her audience analyze their own lives. She wanted every graduate to know that they can make a change in their lives before they embark on the next part of their life. Quindlen also brings home the point that balance is the key to life. She points out that without a good balance it is not possible to find true happiness because people become too busy stressing out about all the little things. Finally, she was trying to bring in a different point of view. She felt that if she brought up a new perspective that the graduates had never considered she might be able to better emphasize her point. By prompting the reader to self reflect Quindlen was able to make an effective speech that could make an impact on many lives for generations to come.