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Ellen DeGeneres is widely known as a comedian, television show host, sitcom creator, and most of all an enjoyable happy person. Elle DeGeneres has made a passion of what she does for a living and has contributed and donated thousands of dollars to notable charities. In 2006 she had donated thousands of dollars to the Hurricane Katrina cause which has greatly affected Tulane University. Tulane University had asked Ellen to write and perform a speech at the 2006 spring commencement graduation and she had been asked back in 2009. Little did she know that she would be receiving an award for all of her efforts and time that she has gave to the New Orleans area. In this analysis of nonverbal communication demonstrated through Ellen DeGeneres’ commencement speech there are three nonverbal codes that are incredibly prevalent. The three nonverbal codes that are present are clothing and artifacts, chronemics, and kinesics. I will thoroughly discuss how these nonverbal codes are present and how they effectively enhanced Ellen’s speech. In Ellen DeGeneres’s commencement speech at Tulane University in 2009 she practices the nonverbal code, clothing and artifacts.
This nonverbal code is defined as, “object language, referring to the study of the human use of clothing and other artifacts as nonverbal codes. “Artifacts are ornaments or adornments you display that hold communicative potential” (Pearson, J.). Ellen effectively uses this nonverbal code by implementing gifts and other articles of clothing to enhance her speech’s message. The first gift she receives from the president of Tulane University is a sweater that her mother had left at her previous employment opportunity. Ellen notes in the speech that she would go to her mother’s work and steal things out of her mother’s purse, signaling her socioeconomic status as living in poverty. This is effective because Ellen has moved up on the socioeconomic ladder, relating to her main message which is to be true to yourself and to remember your roots as the sweater signifies her roots.
The second gift she received that successfully demonstrates this nonverbal code is the robe she receives from the class of 2009 that is graduating. This gift is sentimental because when Ellen had delivered a commencement speech earlier in the decade (in 2006) in which she had worn a robe, stating the current disaster in the New Orleans area; Hurricane Katrina. Connecting to the audience is an important factor in which the audience interprets and really understands the meaning of the message. Ellen likes to include humor in her speech and everyday life so including these gifts changes the atmosphere of the situation and the certain part of the speech she was trying to translate as serious. The third object that has helped communicate Ellen’s speech is the pair of Ellen underwear she has given to the President of the college. This was a useful way to transition the serious demeanor of the message to a more delighted ending of the commencement ceremony. This also portrays the message that Ellen is still connected to the university although she did not attend the school.
The second nonverbal code that was relevant in her speech was chronemics. “Chronemics otherwise known as temporal communication refers to the way that people organize and use time and the messages that are created because of their organization and use of it” (Pearson, J). Ellen discusses a memory of when she realized she needed to change the path that she was currently on in life. She describes how her girlfriend and the time had passed away in a fatal car crash and notes that she had drove by the accident blind of who was in the accident. After she had known of the fatality of her girlfriend she had gone into show business and had shut out her personal life, especially the status of her sexual orientation. After some years go by she decides to open up about her personal life, with full knowledge of the remarks and repercussions she would receive and is now living free of fear and guilt and is living the living she had envisioned. Referring back to that memory raises awareness in her message to be yourself and to do what you are interested regardless of what others’ thoughts are on it.
Another part of chronemics that can be seen in the speech is how she was monochronic which entailed that she was very serious, focusing on work and hid relationships; or her sexual orientation as she discussed. She later mentions that she has a partner, Portia and is now living life to the fullest. Focusing more on relationships and working on several tasks is known as polychromic, which is what Ellen is now (Tulane, U.). Ellen also notes that she had been to Tulane University back in 2006 which connects the students to the past, which included Hurricane Katrina and the disaster and graduation ceremony that had come with it. Relating past experiences to the present creates more of a familiar atmosphere for the audience and the audience is more apt to listen and interpret the message more clearly. The third nonverbal code that I have found in Ellen’s speech is kinesics, which is defined as, “posture, gestures, and facial expressions” (Pearson, J.). We see Ellen use kinesics throughout her speech as she uses her arms to create a more dramatic humorous effect on the sentence she is saying and when she is trying to convey a more serious message she limits her arm gestures to less eye grabbing movements.
Less notable gestures create a smaller more intimate aura and allows the audience to zone in on the speaker and really listen to the message. Ellen’s eye contact is also effectively used in her speech as she holds her gaze when she starts to discuss a more serious topic including her girlfriend’s passing. She also uses intense eye contact when talking about coming out to the public and how that wasn’t an easy task to proceed with. Seeing the eye contact submits the audiences into a state where they need to listen, and when they need to listen. Holding her gaze attracts the audience to listen closely and to relay the severity of the message such as limiting arm gestures. The facial expressions she possesses change drastically throughout the speech as she holds a smile for the more light topics rather than the impassive look she has when she speaks about dark subjects. (Tulane, U.) Ellen also uses dance when she is leaving the stage after her speech, the dancing allows happy and enlightening thoughts to appear after a heartfelt and serious message. As dancing is one of Ellen’s trademark acts that she does and that brands her, she allows dancing to tie in her message about being yourself.
She uses dancing as a way to be unique and to put your own twist on something everyone is doing. Without saying certain words or phrases, your eyes can say a lot about a sentence or the real meaning of a message. A lot of speaker use kinesics in their speeches or anywhere they need to use nonverbal bodily movements when necessary. Kinesics is easily recognizable in this speech as it helps interpret what she is trying to say, creating a clearer message that transfers to the audience. Ellen DeGeneres successfully uses kinesics, chronemics, and clothing and artifacts as effective nonverbal codes within her speech. With using bodily language and gestures through kinesics, time through chronemics, and mentioning robes and sweaters through clothing and artifacts she has enhanced the message of her speech greatly. Ellen’s speech has become more powerful and meaningful with the use of these nonverbal codes
Pearson, J., Nelson, P., Titsworth, S., & Harter, L. (2011). Nonverbal Communication. Human Communication (Fourth ed., pp. 82-100). New York: McGraw Hill Publishing. Tulane, U. (Director). (2009). Ellen at Tulane Commencement 2009 [Motion picture]. UnitedStates of America: Youtube.