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Denzel Washington Graduation Speech Adopted from 2011 Pennsylvania…

Denzel Washington Graduation Speech
Adopted from 2011 Pennsylvania Commencement speech
http://gradspeeches.com/2011/university-of-pennsylvania/denzel-
washington
President Gutmann, Provost Price, Board Chair Cohen, fellow honorees beautiful, and
today’s graduates, I’m honored and grateful for the invitation today. It’s always been
great to be on the Penn campus. I’ve been to a lot of basketball games at the Palestra
because my son played on the basketball team. Yeah that’s right; he played on the
basketball team. Coach didn’t give him enough playing time but we’ll talk about that
later.
I’d always get a warm welcome when I come to Pennsylvania, when I come to
Philadelphia. Still, I’ll be honest with you, I’m a little nervous. I’m not used to speaking
at a graduation of this magnitude.
Thinking about the speech, I figured the best way to keep your attention would be to
talk about something really, like, juicy Hollywood stuff. I thought I could start with me
and Russell Crowe getting into some arguments on the set of American Gangster, but
no.
You’re a group of high-minded intellectuals, you’re not interested in that or maybe not.
I thought about a private moment I had backstage with Angelina Jolie half naked in her
dressing room after the Oscars but I said, “No I don’t think so this is an Ivy League
school. Angelina Jolie half naked in her dressing room, who wants to hear about that?
No one, no one, no one, this is Penn. That stuff would never go over well here.
So now you’re probably thinking if it was going be this difficult, why’d I even accept
today’s invitation in the first place? I had to come because I’ve found that nothing
in life is worthwhile unless you take risks, nothing.
Nelson Mandela said, “There is no passion to be found playing small, in settling for a
life that’s less than the one you’re capable of living.” I’m sure in your experiences in
school, in applying to college, in picking your major, in deciding what you want to do
with life.
Reggie Jackson struck out twenty-six-hundred times in his career, the most in the
history of baseball. But you don’t hear about the strikeouts. People remember the
home runs.
Thomas Edison conducted 1,000 failed experiments before inventing the light bulb.
Did you know that?
I’ve got three reasons:
First, you will fail at some point in your life. Accept it. You will lose. You will
suck at something. There is no doubt about it. That’s probably not a traditional
message for a graduation ceremony but hey, I’m telling you, embrace it because it’s
inevitable. And I should know, in the acting business, you fail all the time.
Early on in my career, I auditioned for a part in a Broadway musical. A perfect role for
me, I thought, except for the fact that I can’t sing. So, I’m about to go on stage but the
guy in front of me is singing like Pavarotti and I am just shrinking getting smaller and
smaller. So they say, “Thank you very much, thank you very much; you’ll be hearing
from us.” So I come out with my little sheet music, so I start to sing, but after the first
verse, the director cuts me off: “Thank you. Thank you very much, you’ll be hearing
from me.” So I assumed I didn’t get the job, but the next part of the audition, he called
me back.
The next part of the audition is the acting part of the audition. I figure, I can’t sing,
but I know I can act.

So they paired me with this guy and again I didn’t know about musical theater. My line
was “Hand me the cup.” and his line was “Well, I will hand you the cup my dear, and it
will be there to be handed to you.”
I said, “Okay. Should I give you the cup back?” “Oh yes you should give it back to me
because you know that is my cup and it should be given back to me!” I didn’t get the
job. But here’s the thing, I didn’t quit. I didn’t fall back. I walked out of there to prepare
for the next audition, and the next audition, and the next audition. I prayed and I
prayed, but I continued to fail, and I failed, and failed but it didn’t matter because you
know what?
There’s an old saying, you hang around a barbershop long enough, and sooner or later
you will get a haircut.
Last year I did a play called Fences on Broadway and I won a Tony Award. And I didn’t
have to sing, by the way. It was at the same theater where I failed that first audition thirty
years prior. The point is, and I’ll pick up the pace, every graduate here today has the
training and the talent to succeed but do you have guts to fail?
Here’s my second point about failure, if you don’t fail, you’re not even trying. My
wife told me this great expression, “To get something you never had, you have to do
something you never did.”
You’ve invested a lot in your education and people invested in you. And let me tell you,
the world needs your talents, man, does it ever. I just got back from Africa a couple of
days ago. It’s a beautiful country, but there are places with terrible poverty that need
help. And Africa is just the tip of the iceberg. The Middle East needs your help. Japan
needs your help. Alabama and Tennessee need your help. The world needs a lot and we
need it from you, we really do, we need it from you the young people. So get out there.
Give it everything you’ve got whether it’s your time, your talent, your prayers, or your
treasures.
Now here’s my last point about failure, sometimes it’s the best way to figure out
where you’re going. Your life will never be a straight path. I began at Fordham
University as a pre-med student. That lasted until I took a course called “Cardiac
Morphogenesis.” I
couldn’t read it; I couldn’t say it; I sure couldn’t pass it. Then I decided to go pre-law,
then journalism. With no academic focus, my grades took off in their own direction
down. I was a, 1.8 GPA one semester, and the university very politely suggested it
might be better to take some time off. I was 20 years old, at my lowest point.
The summer of that year, while working as a counselor at a YMCA camp in Connecticut;
we put on a talent show for the campers. After that show, another counselor came up to
me and asked, “Have you ever thought of acting? You should. You’re good at that.”
When I got back to Fordham that fall I changed my major once again, for the last time.
To conclude what I mean refers to taking risks or being willing to fail. Because taking a
risk is not just about going for a job. It’s also about knowing what you know and what
you don’t know. It’s about being open to people and ideas. And I can’t think of a better
message as we send you off today, to not only take risks, but to be open to life, to
accept new views and to be open to new opinions, to be willing to speak at
commencement at one of the country’s best universities even though you’re scared
stiff. While it may be frightening, it will also be rewarding because the chances you
take, the people you meet, the people you love, the faith that you have that’s what’s
going to define you.
So, members of the class of 2011, this is your mission. When you leave the friendly
confines of Philly, never be discouraged. Never hold back. Give everything you’ve got.
And when you fall throughout life and maybe even tonight after a few too many glasses
of champagne, remember this, fall forward.
Congratulations, I love you, God bless you; I respect you.

 

Consider the following questions and provide your brief responses that show your
knowledge of the rhetorical terms. Each response should be three to seven sentences: 
1. PURPOSE: What do you think is the main purpose of the speech/ what is the speaker trying to “teach”
his audience? (2p)
2. AUDIENCE: Who is (are) the target audience? Support your claim referring to the speech: (2p)
Rhetorical appeals of Ethos, Decorum, Pathos, Logos, Kairos, and the Rhetorical Tenses: As you
consider each of these Persuasive strategies, think what kind of supporting information, quotes, references,
and examples is the speaker using and refer to them as an explanation when you state your responses.
3. Kairos: Is this speech powerful considering the rhetorical situation (the time/ place) it was delivered?
Why do you think so? Where else could this speech have the same effect? Explain (3p)
4. Ethos: How is the speaker establishing his credibility as a speaker and the credibility of his argument/
his claims? Explain referring to the speech (3p)
5. Decorum (as a part of Ethos, decorum means to fit into expectations of the audience) Well, knowing
that Denzel Washington is a famous actor, and being invited to do graduation speech, we/ the
audience surely expects him to deliver a “brilliant”/ good speech, at least to present his speech
with confidence, and yet he starts the speech confessing how unorganized, unprepared, and
unconfident he feels.
Why do you think he does so? What do we expect from a graduation speaker, from a famous actor and how do
you feel as an audience seeing him unprepared? Does he fit into “our” expected confident speaker framework
by the end of his speech at least? State your thoughts about all these that can refer to “decorum”-fitting into the
expectations of the audience. (3p)
6. Pathos: How is the author appealing to his audiences’ emotions? What kind of emotions is the author
evoking in his audience (state at least 2 emotions and refer to the speech video or the transcript to
support your claim with facts from the speech) What can you say about humor he uses, do you think it
is effective? Explain! (3p)
7. Logos: how is his speech logical? Explain referring to the speech. Also, consider the structure of the
speech and comment how this can make his speech logical. (3p)
8. Rhetorical Tenses: (Past, Present, Future): The speaker refers to his past, he also is speaking of the
present, and surely “teaches” life lessons for the future. In few sentences, state how effective do you think
the changes of tenses are within the speech are? Provide just your thoughts/ comments / opinion on this and
refer to specific examples from the speech that can relate to these 3 tenses. (3p)

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