“This Is Water” [Alvarado]

When one thinks of a genre, one might assume it pertains to music, movies, or books. However, literary genres encompass far more than a book being fiction or nonfiction. One may not think of a graduation speech as a genre, but just as with anything written, or typed, it has a style dependent on the message and the target audience. Genre is what separates a formal collegiate research essay from something as simple as a post on social media. When using this as a definition of genre, a commencement or graduation speech can and should be considered to be a genre of its own.

David Foster Wallace’s famous commencement speech to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College, “This Is Water”, is an example of a graduation speech. In his address, Wallace understands what genre to focus on because he knows his target audience and has a purpose for his address. Wallace realizes that he is speaking to a college graduating class, so he designs his speech to inspire and send off the graduates into a world beyond textbooks and late night study sessions. He also uses a more casual tone, such as his use of jokes and foul language, in order to captivate his younger audience and make the speech easier to follow. All of these elements make this graduation speech different from other speeches or writings.

The differences between this speech and one that is more formal, such as the State of the Union Address, define this graduation speech as an example of genre. Kerry Dirk states that genres are used as a type of manual or guide for future writers to follow. Wallace uses his knowledge of previous commencement speeches to guide him in creating an easy to follow and inspirational send off for the graduates. Though Wallace’s speech does contain certain elements of a traditional graduation speech, he also separates himself and suggests that he is not attempting to inspire the graduates. Rather, Wallace attempts to give the graduates advice and a visualization of what the future may hold.

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