Harry Potter and the Call of Philanthropy

Here is a lovely story told to me by the parent of a relatively recent alum. (I’m principal [and teacher] at an all-boys Catholic school.) This alum and his wife had several classmates to dinner and the conversation was about their shared high school experiences. The reminiscing went on so long, and was so effusive, that eventually the alum’s wife questioned why they were all still talking about their high school. One of the guests said with great intensity, “You wouldn’t understand, we went to Hogwarts.”

This is thrilling for me to hear primarily because in this scenario I get to be Dumbledore (well, minus the whole getting killed thing I hope). Of course, the wonderful passion that this grad evoked was that his high school experience was magical (and remember that Hogwarts was not particularly easy, the school had trouble finding and retaining good teachers [Defense of the Dark Arts is one tough position to fill!], and enrolled some people with whom one was close, some people one didn’t know, and even some people one couldn’t stand–it was still magical). I’m guessing that part of the magic comes from the behavior that one adopts from witnessing the dedication, generosity, and excellence of a Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall or Remus Lupin (or even Firenze or Rubeus Hagrid) and the other part comes from the shared experiences at a time when we are still in formation–quidditch matches, labs, library time, meals, or anything that binds us together.

I also wonder if Harry and Ginny, now married and sending their first child to Hogwarts, are philanthropically inclined. There is no mention of a Development Office (or Advancement Office) at Hogwarts but even the magical world seems to need money (hence Gringotts Wizarding Bank) and apparently you cannot just cast a transfiguration spell and create money (would that it were so in Muggle world).

I can just see myself on the phone raising money: “Hi Mr. Potter, I’m calling from Hogwarts to ask you to help with this year’s Annual Fund. Yes, I’m aware that you were almost killed several times at school–un-huh, yes, I agree that some of your teachers were–to be charitable–nuts.” (Here is a funny and TRUE digression from Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, “If a boy can’t have a good teacher, give him a psychological cripple or an exotic failure to cope with; don’t just give him a bad, dull teacher. This is where private schools score over state-run schools; they can accommodate a few cultured madmen on the staff without having to offer explanations.”) “Well, anyway we’ve been hoping to improve our facilities–the Divination Room is in need of a substantial upgrade–the dining hall needs work as do several stairwells, we always need more chemicals and we really invest in Magical Creatures; would you like to sponsor one? I see, you got bit by one and chased and scared and nearly incinerated by others. OK, well we’d like to help more students who just can’t afford Hogwarts be able to attend. Right, right, you have your own family; I see your son, James Sirius is already here, and I know that you and your wife both paid tuition during your time here. Still, I was wondering if you could participate in the Annual Fund–it need not be extensive–but the World of Magical Grant Making does ask us for the percentage of alums who participate. Yes, I’m aware that pre-Hogwarts’ education is pricey and that Albertus Severus will be joining us next year and that Lily Luna will be coming along soon. No, I can’t guarantee placement in a particular House–the Sorting Hat does that–no, I can’t just abolish Slytherin either. I can see that you still carry some scars from your experience here–oh, I’m so sorry I do realize that the REAL scar is from infancy and I didn’t mean any offense. In any event, I’m going to be in your part of the world and I’d like to sit down and talk about planned giving with you–no, no, I don’t mean to suggest that you are old or dying. Well, I am happy to drop you a note and brochure by OWL post. Thanks so much for taking my call.”

So, do Harry and Ginny (and Ron and Hermione) donate to Hogwarts? I hope so–I know that they value their experience–and I hope that they would want others to have the opportunity for that kind of experience. Perhaps the truest form of giving back is paying it forward. Generosity and gratitude are the two great virtues we have to be taught (some virtues are more natural than others it seems) and philanthropy is the way we articulate our deepest values. Some people will serve only themselves and give only to themselves. Those of us who realize that we owe others for much of the best in us feel obligated to give–and let’s give thanks for that.


Filed under education, Harry Potter, philanthropy, popular culture, teaching, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Harry Potter and the Call of Philanthropy

  1. Matt Palmer

    Poor Harry. He saves the school he dropped out of and he’s still getting hit up for cash to keep it open. The Boy Who Can’t Win. I kid, I kid.

    I always pictured you as Lupin, Dr. McMahon. You were the wise teacher/mentor, but without the whole werewolf curse.

    • Matt, So good to hear from you. At least you don’t remember me as Trelawney or Hagrid (or one of the Dementors)–though I suppose that could be my current occupation as regards raising money. Pax, Dan

  2. Christian Mester

    Love the Post! And so that you don’t apparate at my work anytime soon, my annual fund donation was given to Ron’s owl weeks ago for delivery…….If not yet received, well, you understand they no longer have Saturday delivery, so it may take longer. And owl post is certainly the best way to reach me….

  3. Michael Lazarus, class of '83

    I’ve got to nitpick just a tad: Harry & Ginny’s second son is “Albus” not “Albertus”. And I doubt you could call Harry, since they didn’t have phones in their magical world. I think Rowling said something about the magic interfering with electronics.
    I always thought of Mr. Smith as the McGonagall type (or is it the other way around?).

    • Hi Michael, thanks for the correction (shows what working without a net does). I’m sure McGonagall is based on Mr. Smith (or maybe I’m thinking of Lupin?). All best, Dan

  4. Drew Abernathy

    Dr. McMahon,

    I personally would see Mrs. Yarrish as the McGonagall, one of the wisest teachers who always is there to help. A teacher who leaves a monumental impression on all of her students for sure.

  5. Pat O'Neill '76

    If we are matching teachers with the characters then you have to have FR. Damian as Snape and Frank Bruno as Trelawney but none of your students would know who the last one is.

  6. Very nice story. I can see how they would make the comparison. The school uniforms it the movies have often reminded me of High School. I can see myself doing the same thing had the books and movies been around all those years ago.
    Dr. Offutt as Mad Eye…..yes.
    Dave ’79

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