Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rhetorical Drizzy: What Rembert Browne & Drake's Respective Graduation Speeches Teach Us About Writing

"The future will be run by robots anyway. And it shall be our job to build them."
                     --David Merritts, Valedictorian Speech from my senior year, LHS c/o '98

First of all, David's speech was hilarious. Second, you should've been there. I don't mean at the graduation; I mean at that special moment in the late 90s when, in 2 years, the End of the World would be brought forth by a computer apocalypse (as opposed to a more ancient, Mayan one) and the hottest rapper was a mumbling New Orleans native named Master P (who at 6'3" couldn't accurately fit "Lil" into his moniker).  Either way, high school (and the end of high school) can be a special time. But this blogpost is about comparing idea presentation, not nostalgic interpretations.

So with that said, I want to look at an article I've posted below, which provides an interesting example of rhetorical juxtaposition. Grantland contributor Rembert Browne provides a clear and entertaining compare & contrast essay. I try to stress this w/ my students: it's not enough simply to point out similarities & differences. You must also be able to explain why those similarities & differences are worth writing & reading about.

Ultimately, Browne presents cleverly the news of Drake's graduation & graduation speech (at a school different from the one he--Drake--recently graduated from). And although Browne doesn't tell us how long ago it was, he uses self-deprecating humor to  compare his own high school valedictorian speech to that of the multi-platinum, internationally known, recording artist. And yet reading this through the eyes of a teacher, I can't help but see that Browne's comparisons are built upon several rhetorical principles: decorum--which speaker is dressed better, practical wisdom--which speaker provided the best life lesson, pathos--which speaker had the biggest impact on the female audience, peroration--which speaker had the best ending, as well as other details.

I won't give away who won (because Browne keeps score & tallies them at the end). And, unless you click on the imbedded videos of Drake's  26 minute speech, it's a short, fun read.


Rembert Browne vs. Aubrey 'Drake' Graham: A High School Commencement Speech Showdown

By Rembert Browne on 
For some time, I genuinely thought Drake and I had a great deal in common. But, as time went on, and he really started getting famous, that feeling began to slightly subside. And then, with Drake's fame came Drake's "Drake obsession." And with Drake's "Drake obsession" came Drake's Instagram. And with Drake's Instagram came Drake's new moniker, "Champagne Papi." When he began referring to himself as that, it became clear the guy I once saw moderately as a peer was no longer someone I felt too much of a connection with.
Yes, the bar mitzvah video for "HYFR" got me back on the "yes, OK, we'd totally be BFFs" bandwagon, but those friendship butterflies only lasted for so long.
Then last week, Drizzy's Twitter alerted the world of some uncharacteristically wholesome Aubrey news.
This was exciting news for our nonexistent, completely one-sided fake friendship. Drake, the newly focused scholar, taking a rare break from telling girls to drop down and get their Eagle on in order to alert us of his academic accolades. I liked this. I liked this a lot.
And then, just a few days later, word got out that Drake spoke at the high school graduation ceremony of Jarvis Collegiate Institute. And that there was a video of said speech.
The Longer, Fuzzier Version
The Shorter, More Close-up Version
Good speech, 26-year-old Drake. But how did it compare to another noteworthy graduation speech, delivered seven years earlier by a young man just a few months removed from his 18th birthday?
Let's put them side by side and figure it out.

1. Is the speech delivered at the school attended by the speaker?
Graham: No, the newly diploma-ed Aubrey spoke at another school's graduation, as a peer and as a mentor.
Browne: Yes, because that's how graduation speeches are supposed to work.
ADVANTAGE: Drake. Who wants to hear from some loser classmate when they can watch the guy who throws bottles at Chris Brown and then sings sweet nothings into Rihanna's ears? On multiple occasions? Even I can admit that.

2. How was the speaker in question dressed?
GrahamSome sort of sweater hoodie thing, with a gold chain dangling.
BrowneBlack suit and tie (both picked out by mom) and black shoes that were promptly kicked off once feet were hidden behind podium.
ADVANTAGE: Browne. Without question. Don't make it so obvious that you're headed out post-someone else's graduation, Drake. At least give the people the illusion that you got dressed specifically for this event.

3. Most self-deprecating line?
Graham: "Why can't I wake up every morning and learn how to cook food?"
Browne: "What other school would I be able to show my face and give a speech at graduation after leading the boys' basketball team to a 1-25 record?"
ADVANTAGE: Browne. Easy. Also, a super humblebrag. I'm both embarrassed and proud.

4. Biggest life lesson?
Graham"It's not about the popular kids, it's not about the kids that don't feel as popular, because all that changes later in life. And I promise you, I'm 26 years old, it changes."
Browne: There isn't one morsel of advice in this entire speech. I reread it four times looking for one, but there's just nothing. Just me telling stories about Les Misérables and high school race relations.
ADVANTAGEGraham, but let's be honest, this is more of an honorary degree approach than a speech to your peers, even if everyone in the room has the same rudimentary knowledge of the special triangles, SOHCAHTOA, and what not. But yeah, advantage = Aubrey.

5. Biggest realization?
Graham: "I reached a point in my life where I realized that there aren’t material things that can give me the excitement that I’m looking for. There’s a void, there's a gap in my life that I need to fill and I needed to sit and think long and hard what that was. And it was the fact that I had left a gaping hole in my story of following through. So, for five months, we talked back and forth on e-mails, we worked, we wrote papers, I studied for an exam, we figured out how I didn't close my chapter of following through."
Browne: "I realized that this was the last time I was ever going to do this. This was the culmination of my career. This was my last school race, the last time the entire school got to see me run, and the last time I would walk to that Port-a-Potty for my pre-race urination."
ADVANTAGE: Browne, on the mention of urination alone. Also, I need more proof, Champagne Papi, about that whole "material things" tidbit not mattering that much. Don't lie to the kids; you know they've been listening to "Pop That" all summer.

6. Impact speech had on the females in the audience?
Graham: A lot, including a chorus of "awwwwww" after he brought up his mother and screams once he finished the speech.
Browne: Zero impact, but the line "when I was thinking about love in class, I naturally thought about females for a good while and then I thought some about my family" is not only noteworthy for the use of "females," but also because it's easily the most brazen thing I'd said at that point in my life in front of my mother.
ADVANTAGE: Graham, but I'm a huge fan of 18-year-old me right now for that smooth line.

7. Last Line
Graham: "I think I'll sleep a little better tonight knowing that I found a way to follow through."
Browne: "I think most of us are ready to go, but we all know how much we are leaving behind."
ADVANTAGE: They're both super corny, but I think I have to give the last-line edge (and the 4-3 win) to Aubrey. I don't like the idea of 18-year-old me doing something better than 26-year-old Aubrey, so seeing him deliver a moderately heartfelt passage to a bunch of impressionable strangers who will hang on to his every word is something I do appreciate.

Drake, you continue to confuse me and keep me on my toes and make me wonder if this friendship is ever going to flourish the way it was meant to. It's frustrating, but I'll continue to go along for the ride. With this speech, along with the unfollowing of all of your social media outlets, I feel as if we're back in a better place. Congrats to us.

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