Alohomora- Unlocking the Character Within
Tina Calahan, Division 3, Graduate school #ws18e-s1d3

There is magic in escaping our own realities through fiction. We get to experience the thrill of discovery, weight of defeat, and joy of victory; all without ever investing our own personal stakes. Fictional stories give us the leisure of partaking in a journey without any requirement to make decisions that will affect the end. They have predestined finishes and when we reach them, we can relish in the immense relief that the battle is already won.

It is in this rush of closure, however, that we emerge from our favorite characters stories and wake to our own. A fleeting moment when we subconsciously compare those characters to ourselves and weigh the end of their story to the unknown future of our own. These are the moments that teach us that our stories have their own magic, and that we hold an immense power in the shaping of its resolution. The excitement of that promise has shown me that I do not want to BE a character from another story, to continually relive THEIR story. I AM the character of my own unfolding story. A character with its own strengths and weaknesses and a story that I am thankful to have the power to shape through my own decisions.

There are, however, many characters that I strive to be like (or not like) as my own story unfolds. The character that I take perhaps the most inspiration from is Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter novels. I would gladly insert the magical world of her story into my own, but the scenes of my story are (unfortunately) set in reality. My captivation with Hermione is that I can recognize small pieces of myself in her foundational characteristics. It creates a personal link to her character from which I can pull practical application in my own story.

Hermione is initially perceived to be a know-it-all with an innate desire to please. A “goody-two-shoes” by all accounts. What person on earth aims for the character of their own story to be described as such? Well, like it or not, that is very similar the traits of my own early character. I have always had a hunger for knowledge and I have always been driven by making my mother proud. I did this through following the rules, getting good grades, and aspiring to a career that would make all the sacrifices my mother made for me worth it in the end.

But, unlike Hermione, my Hogwarts letter never came (though I was hoping for it to be in the form of a full ride scholarship for college.) I was faced with a decision that I knew would have significant impacts on the rest of my story. I could continue to pursue college at the cost of tremendous personal debt but would earn the coveted “first generation college student” distinction. I could enter the workforce and make my way up the ladder through hard work in the footsteps of my mother. Or I could take the wild card option- join the military in hopes of achieving both a significant career and debt free college education. Like Hermione, there is an underlying wild side to my goody two shoes.

It was in the military that I first related to Hermione’s character foundations of honor and courage. Like Hogwarts, the military is full of long standing tradition and structured rules that create an organized efficiency in a chaotic system. Hermione’s early mixed up priorities (she feared being expelled more than death) was not far from my own sentiments before the weight of leadership was placed on my shoulders. It is under that weight that I first realized that not all decisions fit nicely inside the boundaries of tradition and rules. These were the first story conflicts I faced that required a personal character evolution to successfully navigate them. I found the inspiration to conquer these obstacles in Hermione.

Though a notorious rule follower, Hermione too was thrust into situations that did not have step-by-step text book instructions or solutions. But in these situations, Hermione found a natural ability to recognize the way forward in a cloudy situation. She evolved to learn that sometimes the rules lay in direct conflict with the right path forward and that often the right thing to do was not the easiest decision. Her honor led her to know when conflict was an unavoidable obstacle and her courage allowed her to do the right thing despite the possible repercussions. These are character traits of Hermione’s that I often seize upon when I find myself in leadership situations the require me to make decisions in the grey area wedged between the military’s black and white standards.

With Hermione’s leadership inspiration, I have slowly quantified my wild card decision into a successful career that my mother would be proud of. But that was only half of the dream and I still longed to achieve the degree that I had originally sought. The military provided plenty of financial opportunities to do so but I miscalculated the amplification of time and dedication that college requires on top of military obligations. And so, right out of boot camp, I faced another stunning defeat as I attempted to fit education into the small glimmers of time between duty and deployment. I became impatient and frustrated as I reached my fourth year in service and watched my high school friends graduate with their bachelor’s degrees while I had not even achieved my associate’s.

Hermione’s natural academic ability (and Time-Turner!) would appear to be contrary to inspiration in this situation but that could not be farther from the truth. While Hermione’s thirst for knowledge ultimately drove her to her academic success, she too had time constraints in the pursuit of her education (she was battling a dark lord for goodness sake!) Like Hermione, sometimes the world’s conflicts meant that I had to put aside my education and do my part to make the world a better place. The recognition of Hermione’s drive and dedication has always led me back to class when the opportunity was there. I have found my own drive in knowing that every class gets me one step closer to my goals and patience in knowing that there is no end to learning. It took me longer (much, much longer) than I had ever planned but one class at a time, I earned my associates and bachelor’s degrees. I achieved that coveted “first generation college graduate” distinction that made my mother’s sacrifice worth it.

How does Hermione inspire me now? Her inspiration is one of pure potential. The Hermione that led me to find leadership through honor and courage and to find patience for personal goals in the wake of world conflict is a closed loop story. That Hermione’s story, like the beginnings of mine, is already told. But her written story is only the small beginning of her full life story. J.K. Rowling teases us in her epilogue with the smallest glimpse of Hermione, standing on Platform 9 ¾, and putting her own child on the Hogwarts Express for the first time. This is a Hermione that we do not know. A Hermione without a predestined end. A Hermione that will be able to use the life lessons that she earned to develop her own children into strong, independent people. This is the Hermione that inspires me now.

Hermione learned that there are more important things than books, cleverness, and a shining academic record. She learned to value friendship and bravery. But this is my story, not hers, though my story’s motivations have changed from its beginnings as well. My story is no longer about being a worthy daughter but instead it is about being a role model for my own children. It is about overcoming conflict, challenge and hardship in the most adverse situations so that I can testify to them that anything can be accomplished with hard work and dedication.

Hermione has the advantage of adventure to captivate her children as she passes her life lessons onto them. I will never defeat a basilisk, troll, or dragon (they are in unfortunate short supply here) but it is not HOW to conquer monsters that I would teach them anyway. I will teach them that doing the right thing is not always the easiest thing and that sometimes it takes courage to do the right thing anyway. I will show them that the world will get in the way of their dreams sometimes and that it will take drive and dedication to overcome it. And I will help them to understand that there is always a greater good that can, and should, be worked towards.

Perhaps my story will not be as exciting to them as Hermione’s story will be to her children, but the lessons will hold true. And besides, they can always read my (very used) copies of the Harry Potter novels when they need a little more adventure.
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