Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey recemtly, and during the hour, Oprah showed brief clips of the Harvard Commencement speech Ms. Rowling gave on June 5, 2008.

Those excerpts were intriguing enough to make me want to hear the whole speech, having somehow missed it two years ago when it was fairly big news.

Rowling’s remarkable address is worth 20 minutes of anyone’s time. Above is the Harvard video. Both the video and the full text of the speech can be found at HarvardMagazine.com:

2008 Harvard Commencement Address: “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination,” by J.K. Rowling

Rowling’s words on the empowering potential of failure are truly inspiring — but even more impressive is her emphasis on empathy, and the story she shares from her days working at Amnesty International. Empathy and compassion are what I will remember most from this speech.

How odd it is, then, to try and understand the viewpoint of one Harvard senior at the graduation who belittled the speaker’s selection in an NPR story on Rowling’s Harvard speech:

“It’s definitely the ‘A’ list, and I wouldn’t ever associate J.K. Rowling with the people on that list,” says senior Andy Vaz. “From the moment we walk through the gates of Harvard Yard, they constantly emphasize that we are the leaders of tomorrow. They should have picked a leader to speak at commencement. Not a children’s writer. What does that say to the class of 2008? Are we the joke class?”

Her books have sold 400 million copies, inspired children in every part of the world, and will continue to do so for decades to come.

I’m going to go out on a limb, disagree with a Harvard-educated man, and declare Ms. Rowling a leader.

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