One of my fetishes is to read commencement speeches. They’re usually full of the lulz and J.K. Rowling’s commencement address at Harvard 2008 is no exception.
Early on she breaks the ice with some humor about gay wizards. You might think if you were giving a speech at Harvard you’d stick to the straight and narrow, but some people play to win, not just to avoid losing. This sets the tone for her speech right away: as long as it may be, it’s going to be worth it.
The faux apologetic tone for the content of the speech in the beginning is cute. Who would possibly believe that someone who can turn out seven Harry Potter books would have any difficulty choosing how to address an audience of Harvard graduates?
To be totally honest, I’m probably one of the few hold-outs who still hasn’t read the Harry Potter series. The notion of a Messianic child wizard engaged in battles of good and evil are a yawner: if I wanted to read that story, I’d go read the Bible–it’s got more whores, violence and all that begetting and it’s been on the best-seller list for a lot longer. However, after Rowling drops the “epic fail” in her speech–“I had failed on an epic scale”–I might just have to skim the books to see if they’re as good as her speech was. It’s clear she’s made of win today.
The second half of her speech talks of the value and power of imagination. Just reading her message brought actual tears to my eyes that kept running down my cheeks for minutes after I’d finished reading. I’m going to quote the money shot paragraph, because to elide any of it would be criminal:
“If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. 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.”