My friends at school weren’t really into Harry Potter. Many had watched the movies, and a few had read the books, but the magical world did not have the same appeal for them as it did for me. I was enthralled by the story of the Boy Who Lived, captivated by the psychological complexity of the characters in later books, and appreciative of the carefully crafted reality that was just beyond my reach. But I kept my excitement to myself.
After all, I didn’t want to look too nerdy.
My desire to avoid coming off as a nerd extended well beyond Harry Potter. I have been an A-student all my life and, as such, I have often felt compelled to downplay my academic interests in order to fit in with my peers. In middle school, I made it my goal to understand the (dirty) jokes exchanged by the guys in my class; to spend breaks between classes with my friends rather than books; to refrain myself from inserting bookish comments into conversations unless others were doing the same. If my behavior started to dangerously deviate from the mean, I would immediately take a step back to normalcy. Day after day, month after month, year after year.
Don’t get me wrong, I think my determination not to be too different was a good social strategy overall: it allowed me to engage with my peers and to create friendships (some transient, some lasting to this day). Plus, I was at a magnet school, so the baseline nerdiness was well above average. In fact, for an entire month at school, my friends and I were singing a song about little worms called turbellaria because the name sounded funny... Nonetheless, my never-ceasing attempts to fit in meant that I couldn’t really be myself. The Harry Potter side of me remained hidden from view all these years.
In grad school, I learned that being a nerd does not necessarily mean being weird. Here they were, my classmates: socially adjusted, enjoying their relationships and friendships, and — nerdy. Talking about science at a bar; discussing research articles on social media; spending 12+ hours at work on a given day, sometimes because of a deadline, but sometimes simply because they were too excited to stop. My inner nerd didn’t have to hide anymore — it fit right in.
MIT has given me a precious gift: an environment where I can freely express myself. So I want to use this space, a space where nerdiness is the new normal, to finally say how I’ve felt all these years.
I LOVE HARRY POTTER.
J. K. Rowling’s novels were the first books that I read in English. I remember getting to the cave scene from Book 6 and forgetting that English was not my native language; the words just streamed effortlessly into my mind, creating an image that was so powerful that it transcended linguistic boundaries.
The weekend when I visited Harry Potter World in Orlando was one of the best weekends of my life. As I walked onto Diagon Alley, I found myself inside a movie scene, on a magical street full of peculiar shops and busy customers. The feeling of wonder evoked by that view was so powerful that, for a few minutes, I just stood by the brick wall entryway in complete awe, not quite understanding how the wizarding world managed to work itself into my muggle reality.
Today, I sometimes listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks when I feel lonely and unsupported. They provide an unexplainable sense of comfort and reassurance, sharing their magic with me one chapter at a time.
I go to Harry Potter trivia nights and play Harry-Potter-themed board games. When Wizards Unite, an augmented reality game, launched this summer, I reached level 10 in four days. Yes, I’m a nerd. And I’m finally not ashamed to admit it.
Left – my Hermione Halloween costume.
Center – Diagon Alley, Universal Studios in Orlando.
Right – my profile on Wizards Unite.
Many thanks to I.H. who reminded me to be unashamed and thus inspired this post.