June 6, 2008

Inspiration: JK Rowling's Harvard 2008 Commencement Address

JK Rowling's commencement address can be watched, or read, in its entirety at the online site for Harvard Magazine (a good read, by the way). It's worth your time to do so.

Here are some excerpts that I want to make sure I remember, so I'm quoting them here but this is far from her entire speech, and the speech is important -- it's important to read, word by word:

Personal Responsiblity

"There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you....

"... choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice...."

Personal Happiness

"...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.


"... [Poverty] is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.

Failure Can Help You If You Let It

"...Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it.

"...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 already 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.

"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

"The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive

Imagination Is a Responsiblity

"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.

"And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. ...I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

"...What is more, those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

"...Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.