Back to School
It is a fact that our modern society is a knowledge-based society, and the best way to acquire this essential knowledge is through education. Therefore the world’s most successful people have gone through years of education. But going through years of education is nothing but easy. It requires hard work and discipline, which are some of the values Obama advocates in his speech Back to School from 8th September 2009 at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. In this speech Obama tries to motivate the young population of America to do their very best in school.
Obama focuses especially on the importance of the students’ responsibilities regarding working hard and being motivated, as they are the future of the American nation. Such mentioned responsibilities are to be fulfilled individually by the students, as these ultimately are the necessities to succeed. This is the main point of the speech, and Obama emphasizes that the hard work of teachers, parents and the government will be futile, unless the American students also choose to engage in the objective of them becoming a generation of talented and well educated members of society.
The special thing about this speech is that the audience is students from high school, middle school and kindergarten. Obama addresses this audience already in the beginning of the speech by saying he understands their nervousness as regards the first day of school: “And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous.” 
By using the pronouns you and your, he uses the direct language function, because he refers directly to the audience. This direct language function is often used, when the sender is trying to affect the receiver’s opinions or behaviour. In this particular case, Obama wants the young American students to understand the importance school and homework and make it their main focus.
Furthermore, Obama relates to the students’ stressful circumstances by telling about his own upbringing and about how he dedicated a lot of his time for his education’s sake: “(…) my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.” By using this personal story from his childhood, he uses the appeal form ethos, as he tries to seem more trustworthy to the children, because he has gone through the same hard times as them. He therefore understands them, and he knows what he is talking about.
But Obama also stresses that the determination regarding a good education not only should benefit the students themselves, but also the entirety of the United States of America: “So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down. Don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.” 
Through the statement above, Obama gives the students a certain responsibility to retain the values of the country in the future, which appeals to the American citizens’ patriotic mind-set. Patriotism is one of the main values he advocates in his speech. He primarily focuses on the responsibility and the fact that hard work pays off in the end, which he ultimately addresses through patriotism.
Additionally, Obama uses other examples of successful students who, in spite of having the odds against them, worked hard and achieved their goals: “My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.”  From this quotation it can also be seen that Obama uses the personal pronouns my and I and refers to his own and his wife’s life. This makes the speech personal, and it is therefore an example of the appeal form pathos.
Because the audience is virtually children, Obama has to accommodate his language to this audience. He does this by using a neutral and easily understandable language that does not contain formal terms, which otherwise would be expected to be used by a president. An aspect of the language, which is quite informal, is Obama’s use of contractions. Among the examples of successful, hard working people he also mentions J.K. Rowling and Michael Jordan, who both faced challenges during their careers as writer and basketball player, respectively. Again, this is due to the fact the speech mainly is addressed to an adolescent audience and through such informalities as contractions as well as involving Rowling and Jordan, he aims to gain their interest and make an impact on the way they perceive the importance of a proper education.
Towards the end of the speech, Obama asks the children several rhetorical questions such as how they are going to contribute to the American society and what problems they are going to solve etc.: “So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty of fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?” By asking these questions, he tries to inspire and motivate the children and make them reflect on their future and set goals for their life.
To conclude the essay it can be said that Obama uses this speech to encourage this generation’s youngest people to take their education seriously and to not expect succeeding without a lot of hard work. This success is not only important for the individual’s own well being, but also for the entire American nation, as it needs a population of industrious people, who are willing to take on the responsibility of bettering the country and carrying on its values in the future. To substantiate the message, he uses the appeal forms ethos and pathos, and he uses rhetorical questions to make the young students reflect on their own effort in school.
 Obama, Barack. (2009) Page 1, line 4-6
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 Obama, Barack. (2009) Page 5, line 164-167
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 Obama, Barack. (2009) Page 5, line 158-160