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.

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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)

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  • 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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