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The BEST graduation speeches

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J.K. Rowling

Harvard (2008)

Harvard and Gryffindor — a natural pairing!

"The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you,'" the "Harry Potter" author said in her commencement speech. "Not only has 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 Gryffindor reunion."

And despite how much she stressed about the speech, looking back on her own graduation, she doesn't recall a single word from the commencement speaker, British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. "This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard. You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke, I've come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement."

Her most important wisdom for graduates was about failure.

"You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. ... Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected. ... The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive."

Her other message? The importance of imagination.

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Neal Hamberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images