Some of the main purposes of Woody Allen’s work titled “My Speech to the Graduates” are implied in the work’s opening paragraphs:
More than at any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.
I speak, by the way, not with any sense of futility, but with a panicky conviction of the absolute meaninglessness of existence which could easily be misinterpreted as pessimism.
It is not. It is merely a healthy concern for the predicament of modern man. (Modern man is here defined as any person born after Nietzsche's edict that "God is dead," but before the hit recording "I Wanna Hold Your Hand.") This "predicament" can be stated one of two ways, though certain linguistic philosophers prefer to reduce it to a mathematical equation where it can be easily solved and even carried around in the wallet.
Among the purposes implied by these paragraphs are the following:
- Mockery of the grand, lofty, portentous topics of many commencement speeches.
- Mockery of the self-important tone of many commencement speakers.
- Mockery of the typical rhetoric of many commencement speeches, such as the common emphasis on facing a major choice in life.
- Comic juxtaposition of different styles and attitudes, as in the contrast between the self-assurance expressed in the first paragraph and the self-doubt and hesitation expressed in the second.
- Comic juxtaposition of “high” culture and “popular” culture, as in the reference to Nietzsche preceding a reference to The Beatles.
- Comic contrast between the beginning of a sentence and the conclusion of the sentence, as in the final sentence quoted.
Other implied purposes of this speech might include the following:
- The speech gives Allen a chance to display his humor, wit, and whimsicality.
- It gives Allen a chance to display his knowledge in a way that is non-pretentious (partly because it pretends to be pretentious).
- It gives the audience the pleasure of recognizing how Allen is mocking and subverting so many of the well-known conventions of commencement speeches.