In 2008, JK Rowling, at the height of her fame, was asked to deliver the commencement speech for the graduating class at Harvard University. A daunting prospect for anyone, which Rowling candidly admits gave her ‘weeks of fear and nausea’. She is human after all.
She chose her subject matter based on what she wish she had been told when she graduated at the age of 21, and comes up with two things – the fringe benefits of failure, and the importance of imagination – two subjects she is well qualified to speak on, not because she went to university and learnt these things but because she has actually lived them. At the age of 21 of course, being a Harvard graduate, the concept of failure is laughable. But as all of us older, life experienced souls know, failure can happen to anyone, at any time. As for imagination, the very act of taking time to listen and to learn other people’s stories prods the imagination centre of the brain, as in our empathy, we can experience to some degree what we are being told. JK Rowling’s time in her early twenties working at Amnesty International taught her this.
This little book is the speech she gave to the graduates of Harvard in 2008. It is very inspirational, very personal, beautifully worded and crafted. For the Harvard graduates who heard this speech, time has probably dulled its effect somewhat, although I would like to think that something of it stayed with them. But for us, the reader, this little book of her speech, with simple but powerful illustrations is something we can go back to time and time again for a reread, a kick in the pants, or a quiet space and few minutes to shed a wee tear.
Reviewed by Felicity Murray
Very Good Lives
by JK Rowling
Published by Sphere