J.K. Rowling Tells Harvard Grads Why Success Begins with Failure

Here’s J.K. Rowl­ing speak­ing with elo­quence at Har­vard’s grad­u­a­tion, 2008. You’ll find a lit­tle wit (although far dif­fer­ent than the kind on dis­play when Sacha Baron Cohen — a.k.a. Ali G & Borat — spoke at Har­vard grad­u­a­tion fes­tiv­i­ties in 2004). And then there’s the sage advice that she dis­pens­es. Some good thoughts on why suc­cess is ulti­mate­ly pred­i­cat­ed on fail­ure (thoughts that call to mind Steve Jobs’ now famous talk at Stan­ford), and why we need to exer­cise the pow­er of imag­i­na­tion — and empa­thy — in the broad­est sense. We have oth­er fine grad­u­a­tion speech­es post­ed below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Conan O’Brien Kills It at Dart­mouth Grad­u­a­tion

Bono Tells Grad­u­ates “Pick a Fight, Get in It” (2004)

Stephen Col­bert Dish­es Out Wis­dom & Laughs at North­west­ern

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  • anon says:

    FYI, Sasha Baron Cohen spoke at Class Day, rather than Com­mence­ment a few years ago at Har­vard. That’s a big dif­fer­ence. It is doubt­ful any­one like Ali G would be allowed to speak on Com­mence­ment Day at Har­vard. (Class Day hap­pens the day before Com­mence­ment, and tends to have lighter and more humor­ous guests, and involves only the under­grad­u­ates at Har­vard)

  • […] J.K. Rowl­ing Tells Har­vard Grad­u­ates What They Need to Know Share: […]

  • Deh! says:

    I won­der what pos­sessed Har­vard’s fac­ul­ty to bring in some­one who’s only accom­plish­ment is man­ag­ing to cre­ate one of the dullest fran­chise in the his­to­ry of movie fran­chis­es. Seri­ous­ly each episode fol­low­ing the boy wiz­ard and his pals from Hog­warts Acad­e­my as they fight assort­ed vil­lains has been indis­tin­guish­able from the oth­ers. Aside from the gloomy imagery, the series’ only con­sis­ten­cy has been its lack of excite­ment and inef­fec­tive use of spe­cial effects, all to make mag­ic unmag­i­cal, to make action seem inert.

    Per­haps the die was cast when Rowl­ing vetoed the idea of Spiel­berg direct­ing the series; she made sure the series would nev­er be mis­tak­en for a work of art that meant any­thing to anybody?just ridicu­lous­ly prof­itable cross-pro­mo­tion for her books. The Har­ry Pot­ter series might be anti-Chris­t­ian (or not), but it’s cer­tain­ly the anti-James Bond series in its refusal of won­der, beau­ty and excite­ment. No one wants to face that fact. Now, thank­ful­ly, they no longer have to.

    >a‑at least the books were good though


    The writ­ing is dread­ful; the book was ter­ri­ble. As I read, I noticed that every time a char­ac­ter went for a walk, the author wrote instead that the char­ac­ter “stretched his legs.”

    I began mark­ing on the back of an enve­lope every time that phrase was repeat­ed. I stopped only after I had marked the enve­lope sev­er­al dozen times. I was incred­u­lous. Rowling’s mind is so gov­erned by clich­es and dead metaphors that she has no oth­er style of writ­ing. Lat­er I read a lav­ish, lov­ing review of Har­ry Pot­ter by the same Stephen King. He wrote some­thing to the effect of, “If these kids are read­ing Har­ry Pot­ter at 11 or 12, then when they get old­er they will go on to read Stephen King.” And he was quite right. He was not being iron­ic. When you read “Har­ry Pot­ter” you are, in fact, trained to read Stephen King.

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