Madeleine Albright Commencement Speech Summary

 In her commencement speech for the 1997 class of Mount Holyoke College, an all women’s school in Massachusetts, Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright spoke about the future of America and the importance of female leaders in modern society. Through the use of rhetoric, apparent in both writing and speaking, Albright shares her message of perseverance with the graduating class. To begin, Albright’s use of repetition assists in portraying the themes of her speech by stressing the points with most effect. Starting on line forty-nine, Albright discusses the different women she has met on her international travels. Each new country addressed is greeted with the word “in.” This word aids in portraying the similarities between the countries and the women leading their futures. The repetition adds an implied “and” or “similarly” before each thought, connecting the different examples based on their common traits rather than differences. 

Also, starting on paragraph thirteen, Albright ends each paragraph with a version of the word “persevere.” All these paragraphs also include a variation of the phrase “if you aim high enough.” The repetition of these phrases and thoughts, which become the overall focus and theme of the speech, adds stress to the necessity of perseverance and aiming high. By the third repetition of this phrase, this ending becomes almost expected. Since this was originally given as a speech, it was important to use whatever devices possible to keep focus on a certain phrase. Since the brain usually remembers individual sound bites, the repetition of these phrases assists in making them the sound bites people remember. Through the use of this repetition, Albright explains her key points and drills them into the minds of America’s future leaders. To continue, Albright’s spacing in her speech assists the theme by putting more pressure on specific words or phrases, especially in a spoken medium such as a commencement speech. Albright uses dashes to separate key points.

 First, she uses them to keep the phrase “including Russia” from the rest of her sentence discussing potential future allies. At the time of this speech, the idea of befriending Russia, a country that has opposed the United States in many wars such as the Cold War and the Korean War, was likely not a supported idea. It likely was deemed insanity due to the overall international conflicts in values. This use of dashes is to express Albright’s knowledge that it is an uncommon belief yet also a necessary step towards achieving peace. In addition, throughout the fourteenth to seventeenth paragraphs, the ending of “– and persevere” is key to the overall purpose of the speech. This use of dashes is to stress the thought. Taking into account that this was originally written as a speech, these dashes are long pauses to add stress. Albright’s combination of these two rhetorical devices drill the idea of perseverance into the heads of all who attend. Finally, Albright’s diction aids in expressing the true value of perseverance. In paragraph three, one of the sentences expresses how Americans “could” be satisfied with nothing more than the destruction of the Berlin Wall. The use of this open phrasing is to force listeners or readers to question their satisfaction with history. It asks readers if the current situation on world problems is enough to look past them. This use of the word “could” continues to open the mind to perseverance. This word choice allows and recommends listeners to create their own stance on what is necessary or what is important. Later, Albright uses the phrase “entrapped by poverty” to describe the potential great minds of other countries who are being suppressed due to economic standings. The word entrapped implies little or no ability for escape, similar to the prison system. 

The choice of this word for restraint further aids the overall message of perseverance, just as Nelson Mandela and Gandhi kept working for peace while locked up. This phrasing asks people to rise up to benefit the world, even if limits burden the path to success. In conclusion, Albright’s use of rhetorical devices aid in asking graduates to keep climbing higher and to persevere through life’s hardships. She uses repetition, spacing, and diction to request that future world citizens keep moving, as nothing, including gender stereotypes, can hold them back.  

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Madeleine Albright Commencement Speech Summary. (2021, Jul 01). Retrieved December 1, 2021 , from
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