Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Dr. Thomas L. McHaney - Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Pearl A. McHaney - Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Dr. Matthew Roudane


The college commencement address is traditionally regarded as the low point of an otherwise auspicious occasion. An ephemeral form of ceremonial oratory, the commencement speech is reviled for its conventional platitudes, its easy piety, and its abstractions on the well-lived life, the sunny future, and the ethics of adulthood. The South may differ, however, in its approach to the commencement speech genre, especially in the years between World War II and the millennium, when one of the South’s most significant assets became the southern writer. Throughout this dissertation, I have tried to situate eight commencement addresses given by such prominent and dissimilar writers as W.J. Cash, William Faulkner, Wendell Berry, Will D. Campbell, Lee Smith, Clyde Edgerton, Maya Angelou, and Fred Chappell, within the context of the times in which they were delivered and within the speakers' written works. Through my analysis of these graduation talks, I discovered that southern writers typically abandon those repetitious conventions that render the commencement address forgettable in favor of the innovative techniques that were already at work in their written works.