Note on Four Levels of Writing to 'A 1996 Commencement Speech'

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A 1996 Commencement Speech

Literal Comprehension

Salman Rushdie gave a motivational speech on the 1996 commencement program held at the Bard College. His speech comprised of inspirations, encouragement and furthermore, his regrets and experiences from Cambridge University. In his way to encourage the newly graduated students, he traces the memory of his graduation day at the Cambridge University. His story began a few nights before his graduation day when someone spoilt his room spilling gravy-and-onions all over the walls and furniture. In spite of Rushdie having no links to this disrespectful behavior, he was led to be responsible for the mess and his arguments remained unnoticed. He was compelled to pay for the damage otherwise, the college would not let him receive the degree that he rightfully owed. In aggression, he went to the graduation ceremony after which he realized he had been wearing the wrong pair of shoes. He was ordered to change the shoes to which he was not very convinced. He claims that he faced a judgment based on color of his shoes which now seemed shallow and pointless. After he had switched his brown shoes with the so admired black, he was held to kneel down on his feet and plead for the degree to the Vice Chancellor, who sat upon his mighty throne. Finally, after accepting all the injustice and humiliation that came by his way, he was granted his rightful degree that he had worked so hard for the past three years.

He now admits that he had made a great mistake by bowing down to injustice, and regrets that he chose to surrender in the arms of shallow regulations. He also shares his admiration towards Bard College for offering him a place on the faculty of the college during his hard times after threats made against him by the mullahs of Iran.

In extending fair justice and freedom that everyone rightfully deserves, he recites that the ultimate power lies in the hands of humans rather than in the Gods. He represents the Gods as obstructions striking one’s way to self-actualization and tells defying the Gods leads to a path of humanism and belief in oneself. Rushdie sums up his thoughts spreading the message of the potentials hidden in a person until he stands up to all the unfairness and injustice, and opposes the rules drawn by the Gods.


Salman Rushdie’s speech not only motivates people to wake up from the injustice cast upon them by the so-called authorities but also enhances their ability to recognize themselves and their own potentials. The motive of his speech is never to bow down for irrelevant and obstructive judgments but to rise from the oppressions defying every rules and boundary. He broadens his speech with his own experience in Cambridge University about how he was victimized by unappealing authorities. He now regrets that he accepted to get oppressed and remain silent for the impractical judgments made upon him. Rushdie explains about the power lying in people themselves and not among the Gods they worship. The Gods only create borders and boundaries to limit one’s potentials, and anything that oppose one’s way of self-actualization must be defied. Basically, Rushdie makes a statement regarding the nature of a person controlling his potentials, in disregard to the sovereignty of the Gods. His message is to challenge injustice instead of accepting or ignoring it.

Critical Thinking

Rushdie’s speech is quite motivational, directive and furthermore, reflects the reality of most college students. This speech, however, could be opposed by many critical thinkers in a sense that Rushdie, in the name of flattering Bard College, overshadows the college he graduated from; Cambridge University. Inappropriate shading to the college which granted him the degree that he now seems proud of is not very praiseworthy. It seems that he overdramatized the whole situation and made Cambridge University look bad, overlooking its good aspects. Moreover, the reason he was victimized by the authority of Cambridge University was because he failed to outline his innocence and decided to give up on proving the college wrong. Instead of whining about the university rules, he could’ve proved himself right at that time. The colleges are made up of certain rules which demand to be applied to every student without retaining any biases, which Rushdie exclaims to be unappealing. Rushdie also comes to disregard the power of the Gods and portrays the Gods as barriers to one’s success which must be defied and overruled. This part may not be appreciated by most of the orthodox.


Rushdie delivered an extraordinary speech representing the figures of injustice and unfairness ruling everyone’s life. His speech enhances people’s responses towards injustice and prevents anyone falling prey in the hands of wrong rules and authorities. His speech magnifies the usual habits of people to accept every justified or unjustified rule and their concept of climbing the ladder by making compromises. However, this climbing supposedly remains virtual and what’s reality is that people are bowing down in front of injustice. Through his speech, he destines to share a message of remaining stiff to one’s nature and overruling any kinds of unjust regulations. Humanity is what comes from defying improper rules whether it comes from universities or the Gods. Rushdie implies not to get victimized by the superior powers but to challenge them, and destine freedom and justice.


Nissani, Moti and Shreedhar Lohani. A 1996 Commencement Speech. Ekta Publication, 2013.




  • In 1996, Salman Rushdie gave a motivational speech in Bard College.
  • He speaks about the injustices he had to face during his graduation from Cambridge University.
  • He expresses his gratitude towards Bard College for aiding him during his hard times.
  • Defying Gods leads to the way of humanism and self-actualization.

Very Short Questions



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