J.K. Rowling Failure and Imagination

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Rowling started out with a humorous and relatable introduction that was easy to grab the listeners’ attention. “Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, 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! “ (Humanity.Org, 2018). Here Rowling addresses her anxiety quickly and makes it humorous. A humorous instance is a popular way to introduce a speech (Hamiltom, 2015). During my last college graduation, I was nervous, and I had a lot of anxiety before my graduation because I feared what will happen in the future.

I am sure the graduates are feeling the same fear of entering the real world, so they can relate to Rowling. “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 Gryffindor reunion.” (Humanity.Org, 2018). She also uses multiple references like these from her hit book series Harry Potter.

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When Rowling uses her harry potter references, she is relating to the audience in a fun way that creates a bond between them. She also made a humorous comment about forgetting her commencement address that was delivered during her graduation. This is very relatable to every student because we typically do not remember the commencement address that is given. I do not remember my college graduation commencement and it was only a few months ago ha-ha. She is also using Ethos in her introduction.

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“When audience members perceive similarities between themselves and a speaker, they like the speaker better and rate his or her trustworthiness higher” (Hamiltom, 2015). Here Rowling is perceived as believable to the audience because she shares the same issues and feelings as the college graduates in her introduction.

Rowling is aware of what type of audience she is presenting for which is college graduates and elderly parents. She chooses the appropriate topic regarding failure and imagination for college graduates because they are going to experience failure and she explains that failure is natural. My favorite quote from Rowling was “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” (Humanity.Org, 2018) In this statement she is telling us that failure is not a bad thing because failure is natural. As college graduates not knowing what is going to happen in the future, we are all scared of failing and she assures us that failing is a part of life. I am a recent college graduate and I was terrified of what lied ahead for me. She also acknowledges the parents in her speech as well by saying “ 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” (Humanity.Org, 2018). This statement gives the parents an opportunity to laugh. “Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor” (Hamiltom, 2015). Here she is using a Hyperbole by exaggerating how quick she ran off to study Classics. I also believe that she is catering to the audiences’ esteem needs which would be status, prestige, and reputation, sense of achievement, and sense of value and worth. Discovering your listeners’ basic needs and motives is essential to analyze your audience (Hamiltom, 2015). These basic needs are all things the college graduates are hoping to achieve.

She uses Pathos in her speech to draw emotional appeal from her audience. The speech starts out humorous but then goes dark when she talks about her experiences at Amnesty International. Rowling uses multiple personal experiences in her speech which is an effective way to stimulate listener interest (Hamiltom, 2015). She talks about the horrible experiences she had there (reading letters from political prisoners and victims of torture). She speaks about the scream of one man who learned his mother was executed. She used these horrible experiences to show how important imagination is. We can imagine these horrible situations without even experiencing them.

A weakness I believe that Rowling had was the lack of gestures. She did not use any gestures to emphasize any points in her speech. Movement can add interest, energy, and confidence to a presentation. (Hamiltom, 2015) Rowling had a lack of movement and no change of pitch in her voice which made the speech a little boring. I felt like she was sincere in her words, but I did not feel excitement or enthusiasm from her either. Since I do not read Harry Potter books, I do not have a connection with her when she references characters in her speech. I only know about these characters from friends who are huge fans of Harry Potter.


  • Hamiltom, C. (2015). Essentials of Public Speaking. Stamford: Cengage Advantage.
  • Humanity.Org. (2018, September 19). Retrieved from Humanity.Org: http://www.humanity.org/voices/commencements/j.k.rowling-harvard-university-speech-2008

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J.K. Rowling Failure and Imagination. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/j-k-rowling-failure-and-imagination-essay

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