Without Rhetoric I wouldn’t be Here by Erin Collin

Reflective Narrative Award 2011

Writer’s Reflection

For the most part, I think I accomplished what I set out to accomplish in this paper, to examine how the development of my rhetoric helped me accomplish a goal. I realized in the story that I couldn’t just say what I wanted and then expect things to go right from that alone. I had to think about what I was saying and how best to say it to my audience, in this case my dad. I tried to show how I used reasoning and facts to back up the arguments that I was making in order to make a stronger rhetoric. I used good detail, and I tried to convey to the reader what I was feeling and my thought process throughout the story. If I could go back and add even more detail I would. I was able to do this a little, but other times when I tried to do this it seriously interrupted the flow of my story, and it ended up taking more away from my story than anything else. I hope that readers understand what I am trying to convey about my rhetoric, that as it developed, I learned that it is an art that I have to put some time and planning into.


Just as the title says, without rhetoric I wouldn’t be here. Now I don’t mean that I wouldn’t be alive. Rhetoric has never managed to be that helpful for me. What I mean is that I wouldn’t be sitting here, right now, at this desk in the King Library at Miami University. You see, when I got my acceptance letter to Miami I knew it was where I would go for college; others however—namely my father—weren’t so convinced.

I remember the day I got my acceptance letter to Miami very clearly. It was a cool autumn day, and the color change in Michigan was in its prime. As I pulled the big white envelope from the mailbox, my heart leapt because I knew I had been accepted (everyone knows it’s true about what they say about the big envelopes). I grabbed my cell phone so I could share the great news with my parents. I couldn’t wait to tell them, to hear the excitement and pride in their voices. My mom was thrilled, nearly as excited as I was, and already talking about the possibilities for the coming fall. I became even more excited from this conversation as I hung up the phone with her in order to call my dad. I played over in my mind all the possible things he could say. I was sure he would be just as enthusiastic. After all, his only child had just gotten into an amazing school. Who could blame him? But when I told him the news, I didn’t get the “you’ll have such a great time,” or the “go Redhawks!” that I had been expecting. Instead, I got a very businesslike “well congratulations, honey. It’s a great accomplishment to be accepted… It makes it seem even more likely that you’ll get into Michigan or Michigan State.” My heart sank as a million excitement-filled words that I had heard in my head vanished into a black abyss. I knew my dad would have preferred for me to go to one of these schools. He had made that very clear. He had many reasons, all of which I had been reminded of over and over again; he thought they were better schools, I’d receive in-state tuition, not to mention he was a University of Michigan alumni—the list went on. My buzz had officially been killed, and not wanting to stay on the phone with my dad, I decided to drop the subject for now. After all, why cross the bridge now when you can cross it later?

The problem with bridges is that if you want to move forward, they will all have to be crossed eventually. So as the fall of my senior year turned into winter, and winter into spring, the time came for me to make my final college decisions. I had managed to narrow my choices down to Miami University and Michigan State University. I thought long and hard about the decision at hand. I had visited Michigan State and looked into their programs. But it just didn’t seem to fit. The people I had met were unfriendly and seemed stuck in high school. The campus, while pretty, was much too big for my taste, and the idea of getting lost in a class of 500 or more didn’t sit very well with me. I knew that I wanted to go to Miami. Now I just had to make it official. I decided the best way to handle the situation with my dad was to just tell him straight out.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “I really don’t think that’s the best choice.”

No? NO?! He can’t just say no. Who does he think he is? I’m an adult, and this is my decision! These thoughts raced through my head as I stared my dad down across the table. I could feel the heat in my face as my temper shot up at an alarming rate. He’s just going to have to learn to accept it, I thought fiercely. I’m an adult, and he can’t control my life forever. I decided to voice my thoughts. The problem was there was no art, no thought put into how I was making my argument. I was simply spewing out the words that had been building up inside of me. My rhetoric turned out to be an argument—and an angry one at that—between my dad and me. The whole event ended with me storming out (my parents are divorced, so it’s not that hard) and telling my dad that I didn’t care what he thought; I was going to Miami whether he liked it or not.

After I got home and the anger started to wear off, I started feeling pretty good. I had finally gotten the whole college-dad issue out of the way. It hadn’t been pretty, but it had been done. Surely by this point he was accepting the fact that I was going to Miami. I was feeling pretty darn good with myself…

Right up to the point that he threatened to withhold my college fund.

If my temper had been up during the argument with my dad, it was flying through the roof at this point. My mom and I went from shock, to rage, to rationalization. I could still go to Miami without the money I had been promised from my dad, but it would be tough, and it would mean that I would acquire some significant debt. My mind searched for a reasonable answer. Obviously forcing my dad into acceptance wasn’t going to work, but giving in and going to Michigan State wasn’t going to work either. The only thing to do was to develop rhetoric, a real one that was well thought out. I would rationalize everything out for my dad and prove to him why Miami was the way to go.

To begin, I decided to sit down and have a calm conversation with my dad, more adult-like than the temper tantrum I had thrown before, thus proving I was capable of making such an adult decision. When he got worked up, I remained calm and continued when he was calm too. I pointed out all of the advantages of Miami, such as the great zoology program they had and the fact that they were mainly an undergraduate school, so I’d be getting more attention. I evoked pathos by reminding him of how excited he was when he went to U of M, a school that he chose because he wanted to go there, and because he felt a connection to it. I told him that I felt the same way about Miami. I then presented him with something he couldn’t argue with: the hard facts. My dad is an accountant—a job that is all fact-based— so by presenting him with facts I knew I would be on his level. I gave him statistics on things such as employment and salary rate of Miami students versus Michigan State students (luckily, they were higher).

Then I took it a step further. I took my dad to a “Make it Miami” day. I allowed students and faculty of Miami to add to my argument by expressing their own love for the school and telling stories about their own unique experiences. As I walked with my dad around campus, I expressed how happy I could be here and how I could see myself on the campus for the next four years. I could see him beginning to soften as he took in the old buildings and had conversations with nearly every student we passed. I reminded him that Michigan and Michigan State weren’t better schools and that I knew out-of-state tuition would be more expensive, but I was willing to figure out the difference on my own. And finally, I told him that no matter how much he wanted me to follow in his footsteps, I was my own person and that neither of the Michigan schools would be the right fit for me.

Well, as you can see, somewhere between my screaming and my absolute emotional honesty with my dad, something I said got through to him. So here I sit in the King Library at Miami University—college fund intact—typing up how use of rhetoric has allowed me to be here. What you take away from this you’ll have to decide for yourself. As for me, I’ve learned that the use of well-thought-out, artful rhetoric can get you just about anywhere.

Editorial Team’s Note

One of the many strengths of Erin Collin’s award-winning essay is that it is both reflection and analysis, an entertaining true story and a thoughtful examination of the ways that language worked to determine the outcome of the story. Consider the distinction the author makes between spewing out words and producing well-thought-out, artful rhetoric. What considerations did the author have to make to move from the former to the latter? Note that she differentiates between the angry passion she first used to challenge her dad and pathos, or the emotional appeal she used to persuade her dad to imagine the excitement he once felt as a new college student. As you consider Collin’s usage of rhetoric to ensure her spot at Miami, reflect on some of your own experiences where you had to campaign for something that mattered to you through the use of well-thought-out persuasion.