College Graduates in the Age of Harry Potter

Mary Dell writes: Congratulations to the college graduates in the class of 2013. In addition to having their degrees in hand, they also have the distinction of spending their childhoods during a time that could forever be known as “The Age of Harry Potter.”

My son, one of these nearly 2 million graduates, texted me from the processional line forming on the far side of the college quad, “here with the faculty wearing Harry Potter robes.”  His analogy was apt.  Not only did he and all of his friends have on black gowns, but the array of academic regalia included shockingly colorful decoration. On graduation day, a history professor might lack only a wand to complete his transformation to real life Hogwart‘s teacher.

Academic Regalia for faculty, faculty robes at graduation, college graduates, graduation procession

It is no wonder that Harry Potter images came readily to mind. For once upon a time, in the fall of 1998, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone barreled into the US. From it’s September 1 release date, our son’s generation (and their parents) began to fall under J. K. Rowling’s literary spell. Here are ways their childhood was uniquely enhanced by her creativity:

Reading Harry Potter became a family bedtime tradition.  None of us dared miss a single adventure during those wonderful read-aloud days.  As each new book in the series was released (1998-2007)  families clamored to midnight bookstore openings or sat on doorsteps, waiting for the Amazon package to arrive.

The first movie came out in 2001 and a real little boy replaced our imaginary Harry. The three stars of the show, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, were born in 1989, 1988, 1990. Had any of us lived in their neighborhoods, our same-aged children might have been playmates. Instead, the actors devoted a decade of their lives to entertaining our kids…and the rest of the world.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Danielle Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, college graduates

The last movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2, was released in the summer of 2009, shortly after ‘13’s completed high school. We saw the movie as a family and the parallels were not lost on any of us. Tears were unavoidable while I watched Harry, Ron and Hermione complete their Hogwarts days. Having observed them grow up on the big screen, I would miss seeing more of them. It was akin to how I felt about my son and his friends, also moving on from high school.

college graduates, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson

In real life, college tour guides began to include any building that looked remotely like Hogwarts. In December ‘09, The Choice blog in The New York Times quoted then-senior, Lauren Edelson. She explained why so many of the collegiate volunteer guides pointed out Hogwartian similarities: “Most of us have grown up adoring Harry Potter and, through J. K. Rowling’s books, we’ve escaped many times into the world she created.” There could be no argument on Harvard’s tour, peeking inside Annenberg Hall, the freshman dining room.

Annenberg Hall at Harvard, Harvard college tour, college buildings that look like Hogwarts, college graduates

The imaginary sport of Quidditch became real. Never underestimate the power of bored college students to create an enduring tradition. The sport that began at Middlebury College in Vermont in 2005 is now played at 1000 colleges and high schools. The first Quidditch World Cup competition was staged in New York five years later.  As the IQA website states, it is “The only fantasy sport that will make you break a sweat.”

Childhood bookshelves have a set of first editions.  The first book, published in the UK as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, had a production run of only 500 copies and is an extremely rare collector’s item. Though the millions of copies printed for the later volumes have little value beyond their price, perhaps the sale of a set of seven original hardcover Harry Potters might one day help with a future grandchild’s college tuition, if a desperate need arises.

Harry, Ron and Hermione have all graduated from their Harry Potter lives.  Daniel Radcliffe is a film and stage superstar. Rupert Grint is better known for his work in indy films. Emma Watson is both a muse for Burberry and a film star, starring in Bling Ring, a film about thieves preying on celebrities opening June 14.   They have moved beyond the film series like our own college graduates are doing now, just with incredible wealth and fame!

The Harry Potter era was concurrent with childhood for this class of college graduates. Though pop culture will forever sprout stars and trends, will one ever equal this phenomenon? Furthermore, with the growth of e-readers and decline in bookstores, there will be no mass excitement of rushing to buy the latest volume at the stroke of midnight. Yet, Harry Potter is a masterful work of fiction and will endure for generations because of J. K. Rowling’s words on the page.

If and when my son has his own child, I hope to be able to participate in a read-aloud journey with my future grandchild. Oh, the stories I can tell her about her dad and the age of Harry Potter.

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Comments

  1. says

    As a former librarian, my mother-in-law introduced my son to Harry Potter and actually began the read aloud tradition for him. She lived 1200 miles away at the time and had to hand off the reading to us. I remember one especially fun midnight party we attended in Wyoming while visiting Grandma.

    It is sad to think about the losses communities experience with the decline of bookstores…independent and otherwise. Great post!

    • says

      How nice that your mother-in-law was able to be part of the read aloud time with your son. I hope for the same thing someday with future grandchildren!

  2. happy outlook says

    I still remember being at a school book fair when the first Harry Potter book came out and my daughter asked to buy it. You are so right that our kids grew up with Harry Potter and his friends. This was one book series that I was happy to read right along with my kids.

    • says

      We were introduced to the series by a friend who had traveled to London and saw the excitement there. Am forever grateful to her for sending us our first book.

  3. says

    I loved the way Harry Potter got boys interested in reading. The series really did affect an entire generation (and their parents!).

    • says

      It was a wonderful way for a generation of kids to kick start their own reading interests – who didn’t want to know what happened next in the series???

  4. says

    I started to read Harry Potter to my kids a few years ago and they found it too scary. But this has inspired me to maybe try again because I enjoyed the series very much.

    My brother has a daughter who does nothing but voraciously read, and Harry Potter was the only thing they both detested when he tired to read it to her. I know he’ll never pick it up again, but maybe I can convince her to give it another shot when she visits us this summer. I think for the cultural references alone she should probably get through at least one book just to understand what others in her generation are talking about.

    • says

      Let us know if you have any luck persuading your brother and niece to give it a try….have they seen/ liked any of the movies?

      As for your kids, there is an age when it is the right time to begin the series – for us, it was 8 for our son. Our daughter was 3 at the time so we could schedule the reading at a time when it was too intense for her.

  5. says

    My kids both read the entire series! One of my friend’s sons went to Brown with Emma Watson – talk about your childhood heroes becoming “regular” people. Unfortunately she left fairly quickly – the lure of Hollywood was much more enticing than the state of Rhode Island, I guess.

    • says

      I think I read that Emma Watson was returning to Brown – cannot imagine how these young superstars can lead anything close to regular lives.

  6. says

    I read every book out loud to my two sons, even though they were well able to read the later ones to themselves. Some of my most precious memories now that they’re grown.

  7. says

    My daughter was the Harry Potter fan in our house (along with me watching her devour these books). I had heard it was scary but let her have at it- and what a reader of literature she has become. Thank J.K.Rowling. She’s now in Med School and upon graduation we are planning a trip to Harry Potter World! How’s that for influencing a young mind!

    • says

      I love this story – bet that J.K. Rowling inspired life-long reading in many kids. Congratulations to your daughter, in advance, and enjoy your wonderful trip to fantasy land and your own memories of a time long ago in your home.

  8. says

    Lovely. Only one of my three boys dove headlong into Harry Potter! Your comparison is so perfectly apropo!

  9. Emily says

    I’m going to start reading Harry Potter aloud to my youngest soon…I love the parallels you’ve drawn here with your own kids growing up alongside Harry Potter and friends. The e-book trends and no rushing to bookstores at midnight does depress me a little (ok, maybe a lot)…

    • says

      Emily – how fun! I’m a bit jealous and wonder if I could persuade anyone in my family to start reading the books all over again with me! Maybe the labs….

  10. says

    Harry Potter convinced my book-averse son to read. Both he and I read the books several times. During comedy night at his school a few weeks ago his standup routine was delivered in Professor Snape’s voice, and everybody could relate. I will always be grateful to J.K. Rowling for giving us this bond.