In this part of the study guide, we will consider George Saunders’ intentions while delivering the commencement speech at Syracuse University.

Saunders’ main intention is to show the audience the importance of being kind as well as to provide the audience ways in which they can work towards it. Saunders also seeks to show the students that being successful is not the most important thing in life and that people should focus on improving themselves. Overall, Saunders’ message is that being kind and loving towards others will also help you find happiness and satisfaction in everything life has to offer. He also delivers a number of other messages connected to this main one. 

First, Saunders intends to show the audience that he does not regret the thoughtless things he has done in life, as they are part of who he is. In the following example, he uses rhetorical devices such as humor and irony to show the audience that being reckless is part of being young and experiencing life:

Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. 

Then, his intention is to show the audience that the biggest regrets sometimes come from lack of action. In the following example, Saunders relies on rhetorical questions  which have the role of making the audience think about the importance of actively being kind to people:

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her. But still. It bothers me. 

Saunders also intends to show that being selfish and self-centered is part of human nature but also that it can be overcome. To demonstrate this, he also relies on humor:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me). 

Another intention is to…

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