J. K. Rowling's Speech at Harvard Commencement

On the benefits of failure and imagination.On failure:

personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

On imagination:

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 sympathize.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. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

Worth contemplating, no matter what one thinks about the suitability of Rowling as a choice for a commencement speaker at Harvard:

Rowling was chosen by Harvard's alumni. University President Drew Gilpin Faust applauded her selection, saying, "No one in our time has done more to inspire young people to … read."Rowling follows a long line of heavies who've spoken at Harvard's commencement. In 1947, Secretary of State George C. Marshall used the platform to detail his "Marshall Plan" to rebuild Europe after World War II.Since then, speakers have included such luminaries as Microsoft founder Bill Gates, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, other heads of state, Nobel Prize winners, and scholars."It's definitely the 'A' list, and I wouldn't ever associate J.K. Rowling with the people on that list," says senior Andy Vaz. "From the moment we walk through the gates of Harvard Yard, they constantly emphasize that we are the leaders of tomorrow. They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children's writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?"

Courtesy of NPR.