Earlier this year during one of our Support Team meetings we were encouraged to share our favorite speech or quotation. It didn’t take me long to think of mine as J.K. Rowling’s 2008 Harvard University Commencement address entitled “The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination” is one that I hold very dear. I find this humorously ironic considering I have not read any of her seven Best Selling books.
More recently, I have shared this speech with my VM region in the hopes that it will provide them with some words of encouragement and a sense of inspiration to carry them through the second half of their service year.
In her speech Rowling talks about how failure and moments in her life where she was at her lowest helped shape and define who she has become. In life, most people fear failure and the stigma that accompanies it. However, Rowling teaches us that failure can serve as a catalyst to success. She illustrates this point in this excerpt,
“ The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.”
I would argue that serving in AmeriCorps is one of the most challenging experiences one will ever go through. However, I would argue that it is also one of the most rewarding and fulfilling. In a previous blog post, Michael mentioned the “dip”. As an NCCC member I was challenged in more ways than I could ever have imagined. There were moments where I called friends or family practically in tears, wanting to come home. Similarly, this year serving as an RC, I have experienced my bumps and dips along the way but after each have “emerged wiser and stronger”.
Towards the end of her speech she encourages the graduates to reject apathy and to embrace vision and imagination or idealism. She discusses the importance of empathizing with those less fortunate and recognizing that each and everyone one of us, as human beings, has the ability to affect change for the better. Near the conclusion of her address she says,
“ 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 change. 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.”
I found this passage particularly poignant because for me it re-affirmed my passion for AmeriCorps and service. AmeriCorps is made up of a diverse group of young and older people alike. We all come from different backgrounds and have had varying life experiences yet we stand united in our vision to make America a safer, cleaner, happier and better place to live. Some of my best and closest friends, I have found in AmeriCorps. Serving in AmeriCorps is where I have felt most at home.
I encourage any of you who are interested, to read Rowling’s speech in its entirety here.