The Theme of Leadership in William Deresiewicz’s Speech


Finding yourself and allowing yourself to be alone is a difficult task in today’s society. People are always shoving their opinions down your throat and most cannot draw their eyes away from social media and technology. However, in William Deresiewicz’s lecture given to incoming freshman at West Point Military Academy in 2008, he emphasizes the qualities of a good leader, how to become one, and how practicing solitude is a excellent way to start. He expresses his advice by adding rhetorical devices along with uplifting and inspiring the students to find who they are inside and connecting with personal experiences. By conveying this motivational tone and encouraging the plebe class to stand up for themselves, he stresses to his audience the importance of being yourself, thinking independently, and living your own reality to become a true leader. 

In the middle of his essay, Deresiewicz primarily appeals to emotion in order to sway his audience. To achieve this effect, he expresses that finding “your own reality—for yourself, not for others” is a crucial step in becoming a leader (Deresiewicz). Thinking for yourself means finding yourself, finding your own reality. Deresiewicz shifts from finding your own reality to leaving society’s opinions out, in order to continue to establish emotional appeal. He explains that “the other problem with Facebook and Twitter and even The New York Times” is that “exposing yourself to those things, especially in the constant way that people do now—older people as well as younger people—you are continuously bombarding yourself with a stream of other people’s thoughts” (Deresiewicz). He uses emotion and a heart-felt way of speaking to further relate to his audience; He wants them to understand to think for themselves. This allowed the audience to feel closer to and further trust the speaker because he is trying to relate and understand them. He also portrays his point by asking the troubling questions we as humans face daily. He voices his elaboration on the word concentrating and what it means by saying, “it means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input” while also launching the idea that social media is an excuse to “run away from yourself and avoid the difficult and troubling questions that being human throws in your way. Am I doing the right thing with my life? Do I believe the things I was taught as a child? What do the words I live by—words like duty, honor, and country—really mean? Am I happy?” (Deresiewicz). Having his audience think about those difficult questions and ponder what it means to them has a powerful effect on emotions and how they feel about his speech after. He included information with depth to relate with the students and expand their thinking. Their thinking will lead them to validate his whole point and what he is trying to tell them. By emotionally expressing his point of view, Deresiewicz allows his audience to fully feel the depth of his words. 

Again in the middle of his essay, Deresiewicz applies figurative language to his lecture. Using creative ways to keep his audience engaged, he says, “But he stuck to his guns, and ultimately he was vindicated” (Deresiewicz). “Stuck to his guns” is a hyperbole, meaning the man is not actually going to stick to guns. This phrase reveals how hardworking a certain man was. The author wanted to insert it to possibly provoke the students to work just as hard or harder and never give up. This helped the students better understand what he was saying by applying a phrase that most know. The speaker also uses figurative language towards the beginning of the speech. He states, “And the only reason I did is because it suddenly struck me that it was a perfect description of the head of the bureaucracy that I was part of, the chairman of my academic department—who had that exact same smile, like a shark, and that exact same ability to make you uneasy, like you were doing something wrong, only she wasn’t ever going to tell you what” (Deresiewicz). This simile achieved the author’s purpose by comparing the smile of a man in his story to a shark. This told the freshman that the man’s smile was frightening. This comparison enhanced his speech by introducing an unique comparison while also keeping his audience engaged and listening. By using figurative language, Deresiewicz enriched his thoughts by making meaningful connections between common human things and further expressing his message. 

As deeply shown in William Deresiewicz’s speech, he wants to the best for the incoming freshman and truly gave his best advice for them to become their best person and the best leader they can be. A leader is not just someone who is hardworking with a good personality; A leader involves time with yourself, self reflection, and figuring out who you want to be at the end of the day. The rhetorical devices he used to enhance his speech empowered the audience. The bold devices and appeals he incorporated really exemplifies his message throughout the freshmen present. He confirms that finding yourself can change your life and benefit you for the better. Being alone and practicing solitude can not only give you what you need to fully succeed but possibly one of the most important things in life: your purpose.

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