Speaking at Harvard is not something anybody does, it´s not like your friends´ second cousin can walk up to the stage and give a commencement speech, well, unless your friends´s second cousin is some serious VIP.
Over the years tons of great personalities have been invited as speakers in the Commencement Ceremonies.
And Harvard is as big as it gets; even though Steve Jobs´speech at Stanford is very famous too.
So I´ve compiled a list of some of the best Commencement Speeches from Harvard (I´d say history, but that´s too presumputous from me) recent years. I guess Manny Varas will agree with me in this one, as he´s now in Harvard. Today I´ll review a sort of Internet classic:
J.K. Rowling Commencement Speech on Harvard:
In Her Speech, Harry Potter´s Creator J.K. Rowling talked about the importance of Imagination.
She starts with a joke about gay wizarding, to then tie it up with the first message: “Achievable goals as the first step to self improvement”.
She also goes on to say: “What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.”
Then she goes on to tell why failure is a great tool:
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
And then that she knows best: Imagination! Boy can Rowling talk about it…
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think 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.
She finished with a quote from Seneca: “As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters“.
Soon we will review other great commencement speeches. For now, thank you JK, you´ve given us some food for thought.
Photo Credit: Jon CHase/ Harvard Staff Photographer