June 10, 2008

J. K. Rowling's 'Apology for Failure' and an 'Ode to Imagination' while Fleeing Down Classic Corridors of Harvard?

Not a Harry Potter fan myself, I could not help but enjoy this commencement address delivered by
J. K. Rowling at the Harvard Graduation a few days ago.
(please note the title of this post)

Here are some excerpts from her speech:

"... 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...

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown academically...

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it...

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun...

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential...

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default...

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies...

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared...

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s minds, imagine themselves into other people’s places...

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise...

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are...

One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: 'What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.'...

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing...

We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better..."


J. K. Rowling's commencement address at the Harvard Alumni Association on June 5, 2008

9 comments:

Nandi23 said...

I love that speech.
Its sorta like don't live by false standards, happiness and success lies essentially in what you want, not what the world wants for you.
However good thing about society is that there are laws that will thankfully prevent one from criminal happiness :D

EYE said...

lovely speech! Also to quote einstein Imagination is greater than Knowledge

EXSENO said...

I like her speech very much. I
especially like the line where she says, 'we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already' and the quote 'What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.'
No one likes failure but we all fail at something from time to time, so I try to think of it as a lesson learned

White Rose said...

That was inspirational! I do believe, "we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already." I think the problem is that we need to learn how to tap into it.

I want to thank you for stopping by my blog. And if you don't mind I'm going to link your page.

Have a wonderful week!

Eshuneutics said...

There is an irony here: the most interesting comment comes second-hand, from Plutarch. Even when espousing imagination, Rowling upholds the second-hand, not the unique. In this she is honest: her writing lacks imagination and borrows copiously.

ramesh naidoo said...

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Kindly view online exhibition at

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You are welcome to share this interesting exhibit with your friends and associates.

May the Spirit of Dara Shukoh Shineforth!!!

Best

Ramesh N.
Chennai

bablu said...

Failure is a eye opener. I discovered who my true friends were !

The Dutch team is playing attractive football. Dutch vs. Portugal should be an ideal final.

Id it is said...

ramesh naidoo,
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hfm said...

Honestly, I didn't like this speech.
I think it's demotivating. Shouldn't we shy from failure, not for the sake of success but for the sake of growing and acheiving more.
If a person finds solace in failure, why would they want to advance further in life?
Rowling raised some good points which I understand can only be true to her situation and the success she now has.
Maybe I'm wrong.
I don't know.