Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses Harvard's Class of 2018 | Summary and Q&A

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May 23, 2018
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Harvard University
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Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie addresses Harvard's Class of 2018

TL;DR

"Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivers a powerful speech to the Harvard Class of 2018, urging them to embrace truth and use their Harvard education to make a positive impact in the world."

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Key Insights

  • 🤙 Intent and context should be considered when calling someone out, distinguishing mistakes from malice.
  • 🥺 Telling the truth is essential for personal integrity and a sense of fulfillment, even if it doesn't always lead to desired outcomes.
  • 🫠 Reading widely and embracing literature allows for a deeper understanding of humanity and the power of storytelling.
  • ✊ Harvard graduates have the privilege and power to challenge the status quo and make a positive impact in the world.
  • 😨 Overcoming fear and self-doubt is necessary for personal growth and success.
  • ❓ Comparing oneself to others and conforming to expectations can hinder personal fulfillment and creativity.
  • ❓ Embracing failure and learning from mistakes is essential for growth and resilience.

Transcript

good afternoon Harvard class of 2018 hello thank you so much for asking me to be here today it meant a lot to me to know that you the students select the class day speaker thank you congratulations to you and to all your loved ones who are here I spent a wonderful year at the Radcliffe Institute here at Harvard doing a fellowship in 2011 and I fell... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How does Adichie differentiate between a mistake and malice when it comes to calling someone out?

Adichie explains that intent matters and context should be considered. While mistakes can be made out of anxiety or genuine effort to get something right, malice involves a malicious desire to mock or insult.

Q: Why does Adichie urge the Harvard Class of 2018 to tell the truth?

Adichie believes that telling the truth is not just about the outcome, but about personal integrity and the ability to sleep well at night. She encourages them to embrace truth and be courageous in speaking out, even in politicized spaces.

Q: What advice does Adichie give to the Harvard graduates about using their Harvard education to make a difference?

Adichie urges the graduates to challenge the status quo, change cultural institutions, and champion new storytellers. She emphasizes the importance of using their power and privilege to enact change, even if it means facing resistance.

Q: How does Adichie address the fear of failure and the pressure to measure up to Harvard expectations?

Adichie acknowledges the fear and pressure that comes with a Harvard education but reminds the graduates that self-doubt and self-belief are necessary for success. She encourages them to embrace their own unique journeys and not compare themselves to others.

Summary

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie delivers a compelling speech to the Harvard class of 2018, emphasizing the importance of truth, courage, and using their privilege to make a positive impact on the world. She recounts personal stories and shares valuable insights on lying, embracing failure, and the power of literature. Adichie encourages the graduates to challenge the status quo, champion new voices, and never be afraid to speak their truth.

Questions & Answers

Q: What does Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie believe is the difference between malice and a mistake?

Adichie believes that intent and context matter when it comes to addressing mistakes. While a person may call her something offensive out of malice, she acknowledges that there is a difference when it is a result of an honest mistake caused by anxiety or unfamiliarity. She urges people to be cautious of the culture of calling out and outrage, and to take intent and context into account.

Q: What is the main message that Adichie wants to convey in her speech?

Adichie's main message is to encourage the graduates to embrace truth and honesty in their lives. She believes that lying only serves to hinder one's personal growth and integrity. While she acknowledges that telling the truth may not always lead to favorable outcomes, she emphasizes the importance of being true to oneself and the satisfaction that comes from living with integrity.

Q: What personal experience does Adichie share regarding lying?

Adichie admits to routinely lying about her height and making up excuses for being late. However, she reflects on the negative impact of lying and reveals that her biggest regrets in life are those instances where she did not have the courage to embrace the truth.

Q: Why does Adichie emphasize the importance of literature?

Adichie believes that literature can serve as a guiding force in embracing truth and understanding humanity. She encourages the graduates to read widely, including fiction, poetry, and narrative nonfiction, as it allows them to see people as individuals with their own stories rather than abstract entities. She encourages them to make literature their religion and to use storytelling to challenge existing narratives and create a more inclusive understanding of the world.

Q: According to Adichie, how should the graduates use their privilege going forward?

Adichie urges the graduates to use their access, opportunities, and Harvard degrees as a means to change the world, even if it is just a small corner of it. She calls on them to challenge existing systems and cultural institutions, change the media landscape to focus on truth rather than entertainment, and amplify diverse voices. She reminds them that their Harvard degrees come with assumptions but that they should remain grounded in their own humanity and the humanity of others.

Q: How does Adichie address the fear of failure and comparison amongst the graduates?

Adichie acknowledges the fear of failure and the pressure to measure up to Harvard expectations. She encourages the graduates to embrace self-doubt and self-belief, as both are necessary for personal growth and success. She reminds them that there is no set timeline for achievement and that early bloomers and late bloomers all have their place. Adichie also emphasizes the importance of individuality and not conforming to traditional expectations, encouraging the graduates to have the courage to find their own path.

Q: How does Adichie inspire the graduates to use their voices and be courageous?

Adichie urges the graduates to use their voices to speak the truth and challenge societal norms. She emphasizes the importance of having the courage to express their thoughts and opinions, even in politicized spaces. Adichie reminds them that speaking the truth is an act of courage, and while people may resist and even resent it, they should not be silenced. She encourages them to listen to the other side and seek understanding, acknowledging that democracy is fragile and justice transcends political affiliations.

Q: What does Adichie say about the assumptions that people will make about Harvard graduates?

Adichie acknowledges that people will make assumptions about the graduates based solely on their Harvard degrees. While there may be resentment and eye-rolling, she reminds them that these assumptions are minuscule compared to the privilege that comes with a Harvard degree. She urges the graduates to remain humble, recognize their own humanity, and use their privilege to make a positive impact in the world.

Q: What is Adichie's view on failure?

Adichie presents failure as a necessary part of the journey toward success. She shares her own experiences with failure and the fear of it, encouraging the graduates not to let fear hold them back. Adichie believes that failure provides valuable experience and pushes individuals to grow. She advises them to see failure not as a permanent defeat, but as an opportunity to learn and try again.

Q: How does Adichie address the pressure to conform and the fear of not measuring up?

Adichie acknowledges that societal expectations and the pressure to conform can be daunting, especially for Harvard graduates. However, she urges the graduates to resist the temptation to justify and rationalize their choices to match such expectations. Instead, she encourages them to embrace the messiness of life, accept their failures, and acknowledge what they do not know. Adichie emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and the courage to admit to one's own limitations and lack of knowledge.

Takeaways

In her speech to the Harvard class of 2018, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie stresses the significance of truth, courage, and using privilege for positive change. She encourages the graduates to have the courage to speak their truth, challenge the status quo, and embrace failure as part of the journey to success. Adichie promotes literature as a means of understanding humanity and urges the graduates to use their Harvard degrees to make a difference in the world. Ultimately, she emphasizes the importance of living with integrity, being true to oneself, and valuing the power of storytelling in shaping a more inclusive and compassionate society.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Adichie emphasizes the importance of intent and context, highlighting that mistakes should be distinguished from malice.

  • She discusses the significance of telling the truth, even if it doesn't always work out, and the regret that comes from not embracing it.

  • Adichie encourages the audience to read widely, think critically, and use their Harvard education to challenge the status quo and create positive change.

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