June is a good month for graduations, so let’s look at Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling. You say, “J. K. Rowling? She wrote Harry Potter. What is this Very Good Lives?”
It is the commencement address that she gave at Harvard University, in 2008. She published it as a small book, a few years later, and we have a copy of it in the Pine Bush Area Public Library, upstairs in the non-fiction section. It is not a children’s book.
She started off her speech to the graduating class of 2008 with, “The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only ha Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners, and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Griffindor reunion.”
J. K. Rowling talked about how her parents wanted her to get a vocational degree. The creator of Harry Potter said, “I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil now.”
The book’s subtitle is “The fringe benefits of failure and the importance of imagination.” She said, “A mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and a poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself had both come to pass, and by every standard I was the biggest failure I knew.”
J. K. Rowling went on to talk about imagination. She had worked at the African research department of Amnesty International’s headquarters in London. It was an eye-opener to the horrors that people can inflict upon people. She said that imagination is important because it lets us think ourselves into other people’s places.
There’s a lot of good stuff in this little book, and you’ve really got to read it, yourself. Let me finish with her words. “We do not need magic to transform our world: we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already; we have the power to imagine better.” Then she wished the graduating class Very Good Lives.