JK Rowling and the Benefits of Failure and Crucial Importance of Imagination

JK Rowling admits to being very nervous before she delivered the Commencement Address to the Harvard Alumni Association in 2008.

No wonder, its a big gig.

‘The Commencement’ is the American term for the what we call a Graduation Ceremony. The Harvard Alumni Association have only been organising the Harvard Commencement since 1867! The year before Rowling, William Gates III was the speaker. Others to have been the Commencment Speaker include Kofi Annan, Alan Greenspan, Mary Robinson, Al Gore, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, John F. Kennedy, Thornton Wilder, and even our own Robert Menzies (1960).

“Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.”

Joanne “Jo” Rowling studied French and Classics at the University of Exeter. (she had no middle name, and so made up the ‘K’ in her penname). Confronted with speaking to graduates of the prestigious Harvard, whose ‘conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success’, she comes up with two themes.

“On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.”

J.K. Rowling Speaks at Harvard Commencement from Harvard Magazine on Vimeo.

The full text of this speech is well worth a read and is available in Harvard Magazine. Thanks Michelle for the tip.



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