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Yash Kumar

Dr. Butler/ Ms. Hallman

FSSO 152

1 September 2017

The Convocation Address: A Sales Pitch in Disguise

Many attended convocation to celebrate the start of the new academic year. Others

attended to honor exceptional faculty. Some were required to be there. However, there was only

one person there to sell a book. Indeed, Sarah Vowell tirelessly pitched her book in her

convocation address.

Vowell began her speech by wittily recounting history. She continued to slowly lecture

the audience about the entire contents of her book, gifting the students a summary of Lafayette in

the Somewhat United States better than SparkNotes could ever have. Eventually, her efforts

became so extensive that many individuals no longer felt the need to purchase the book, an

outcome counterproductive to what Vowell intended. Moreover, while this one-dimensional

approach seemed to neglect the traditional role of a convocation address as an inspiring speech, it

did address Vowells purpose, which was to entertain the audience. In fact, President Snyders

introduction made it clear that Vowell was expected to repeat her previous success as a guest

lecturer at Case with her unique style of integrating history with humor. This is exactly what she

accomplished.

Vowell targeted an audience range of 30+, with whom most of the jokes stuck. There was

the occasional joke that landed among the students, but it was clear that Vowells attention was

focused on the adult audience. This made logical sense. She had figured out that the public who

voluntarily attended convocation would primarily be in older range. Since her goal was to sell
her book, these would be the ones who would buy it. For this reason, regarding Vowells own

goal, she accurately gauged the audience, but this method also excluded a critical part of the

audience. Evaluating the address thus became complicated as it was purposeful, but its

classification as successful would depend on the definition of success. Regardless, it is clear that

Vowell approached everything with intent.

This was also evident in her stylistic choices. Overall, Vowell attempted to engage the

reader, and she achieved this with personal or modern-day connections and humor. The first

manner in which she captured the audiences attention was with her interesting comparisons

regarding historical facts. For example, Vowell related the age of Lafayette when he became a

general in the Revolutionary War to the age of college students, highlighting the differences in

their actions in a humorous way. The ultimate effect of this technique is that it makes the address

more memorable as individuals connect with the ideas on a personal level. This was indeed

effective with her target audience range as, throughout the talk, she chronicled Lafayettes life,

reminding the adult audience of their own journey. Through this enhanced interest, Vowell

increased the chance of future sales of her book. Similarly, humor also peaked the audiences

interest. Instead of taking the chance that she may bore the audience to death with her historical

recollection of Lafayettes life, Vowell ensured that the audience remained attentive by making

them laugh. As a result, her points were more likely to be recognized and absorbed by her target

audience, again increasing the likelihood that her book is bought.

Overall, Sarah Vowells convocation address provides an insight into talks given to spur

a particular action. Vowell deviates from the traditional persuasive speech style. Instead, with her

unique connections and humor, she creates enough interest in the minds of her target audience to

purchase her book, which is her ultimate goal.