Friday, July 8, 2016


Students graduating from Knox College, Galesburg, in 2008 were addressed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

Across the country, Harvard’s graduating seniors were addressed by J. K. Rowling.

Both speakers talked about the victims of torture. Albright’s brief comments seemed to come from a report. Rowling, who worked for Amnesty International in her early twenties, conveyed the pain, suffering, and horror—the stuff of nightmares. There’s no doubt about who was the better writer.  

I knew about Albright’s speech from the first-hand experience of living in the area when Knox was well into a string of notable commencement speakers: Senator Barak Obama, 2005; Stephen Colbert, 2006; and former President Bill Clinton, 2007.

I didn’t know anything about Rowling’s speech until very recently when someone posted an excerpt on Facebook. It got my attention. Aside from explaining how our uniquely human imagination makes it possible to understand the pain of others, she spoke about failure.

I know something of failure.

I made two attempts at a craft-based business in Bishop Hill. One did better than the other. Neither lasted more than five years.

I never hit as close to rock bottom as Rowling did as a single parent, but I can identify with trying to finish the only work that mattered to me.

I have been determined to write my novel to the best of my ability. To grow and stretch in every way possible. My discipline may seem a little shaky, but I’ve kept at it because I had no other distraction and no other option.

Now that I’m on the homestretch to being published, I have to admit that it’s a bit scary. The old ghost of failure still lingers close by. But I know more and I have more control. Plus, I have the bonus of having already failed. There’s no place to go but up.

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