College Graduates in the Age of Harry Potter

A look at how J.K. Rowling's work changed the world of a generation of children and their parents. 

by Grown and Flown • Member { View Profile }

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.

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 its 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.

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.

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.

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 1,000 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.

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