The rain didn’t keep away the graduates, alumni, family and friends when J. K. Rowling delivered her commencement address at Harvard University this afternoon. Commencement activities were available live on streaming video at Harvard’s website and various Rowling fan sites. Rowling, author of the best-selling Harry Potter series, shared her thoughts on “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination” to this standing-room-only crowd.
She encouraged the graduates to take away two lessons from her address. The first is the benefit of failure; she shares a tale of her own failure, and her subsequent realization that although she had failed at one venture, there were so many other areas of her life in which she was a success. She had failed “on an epic scale”, yet survived. She no longer feared failing; hitting rock bottom because that supposed low then “became the solid foundation on which [she] rebuilt [her] life.”
The second lesson Rowling shared is the importance of imagination. Shortly after graduation from university, Rowling worked at Amnesty International. Her co-workers and clients included former political prisoners, torture victims, and others who had been denied the most basic of human rights. Rowling reminded her audience that:
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.
The author concluded by reminding the graduates and guests that, unlike Harry Potter, “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.” She wished the audience the power of true friendships and “very good lives.”