Ethos and Pathos


The dominant forms of appeal used by Michelle Obama in her “Dear Class of 2020” speech are ethos and pathos. 

Table of contents


Obama builds ethos from the beginning when she portrays herself “not as the former First Lady, but as a real-life person, a mother, a mentor, a citizen concerned about your future and the future of our country” (ll. 6-7). This way, she makes sure to let the audience know that her speech is not political and that she is genuinely interested in the future of their generation. This helps Obama appear caring and trustworthy. 

Obama also builds ethos when she is honest and claims that she does not have “any easy answers” (l. 41) for the graduates. She engages the audience by addressing them as her equals, not from a superior position, and she acknowledges that she shares their frustrated feelings: “I am feeling all of that, too” (l. 15). 

Later on, Obama builds ethos when she talks about her personal experience of dealing with uncertainty in her life:

Look, I’ve been there many times in my life. I felt it most profoun...

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