Actress Dame Ellen Terry and novelist Sir J.M. Barrie sit together in their caps and gowns at St. Andrews University, May 1922. (Photo by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Things Worth Remembering: The Creator of Peter Pan on How to Grow Up

Over a hundred years ago, J.M. Barrie told the graduating class of St. Andrews never to lose heart—even in the face of death.

Welcome to Douglas Murray’s column, Things Worth Remembering, in which he presents great speeches from famous orators we should commit to heart. To listen to Douglas recite a passage from J.M. Barrie’s 1922 commencement address on courage, scroll to the end of this piece.

This is the time of year for the commencement address, a notoriously difficult speech to pull off without inducing a collective smirk or eye roll. One commencement address that managed to avoid that fate took place on May 3, 1922, and it was given by the Scottish author and playwright J.M. Barrie—best known for having given us Peter Pan. 

I find Barrie a fascinating, if strange, figure. (He had, to say the least, a complicated relationship with the people that he based his characters on.) 

In Peter Pan—the mischievous little boy who could fly and have all kinds of adventures in magical lands and somehow never grow up—he created an archetype (first in the 1904 play, and then in the 1911 novel) that has coursed through the culture ever since. 

Perhaps it was inevitable that the idea of the boy who never grows out of boyhood would gain special poignancy for audiences around the world after the tragedy of World War I, in which an entire generation of young men was wiped out. 

Certainly, this was something that Barrie had already spent much time dwelling on. But when he arrived at St. Andrews, not far from Edinburgh, to give some life advice to the students growing up in the aftermath of the disaster, he knew that he needed to inspire them. And he did so in his speech—titled simply “Courage.”

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