When I first toured campus, someone in my Orange Key group looked up at Holder Tower and shouted, “Wow, it looks just like Hogwarts!” It was me. Now, I’ve grown a lot in the past four years, but it’s hard not to think of Princeton as Hogwarts, this magical place where your dreams can come true, especially when you first come to campus. After all, everything is fresh and new and possible and you had not yet created a Horcrux by leaving part of your soul on the TI dance floor.
But even though Princeton runs on money and not magic, these connections are so easy to make because the parallels between Hogwarts and Princeton are more than aesthetic. Like a defensive charm, Princeton’s orange bubble protects it from the outside world. We have mudbloods here too, only it’s not a slur, just the result of four years of using single-ply toilet paper. And instead of Dumbledore’s Deluminator, the magical device that removes light from nearby lamps, members of the wrestling team climb lampposts and headbutt them until they go out. Just like Hogwarts!
And then there are the residential colleges, which are sort of like Hogwarts houses, only even more effective at fostering personal development, each one a bastion of friendship and the truest expression of community. Rocky, Mathey, and Whitman even look like castles, Butler is what happens when a student like me tries to transfigure a plate of bacon into a building, and Forbes is like Hagrid’s off-campus shack. There’s even a Chi Phi pledge stomping around the Annex who has to pretend he’s a Hippogriff until next March.
And then there’s Wilson, the college of destiny, which might be the most magical of them all. Wilson wears an invisibility cloak at Princeton. Think about the number of pictures of Wilson you saw before you came here. Zero. When you think Princeton, the first image that pops into your head isn’t Dodge-Osborn’s vomit brick, it’s the picture of Blair Arch everyone has had as their desktop wallpaper since freshman year.
Nostalgia has a similar tendency to edit out the bad parts. Even now, it’s setting in. And when we graduate tomorrow, we’ll find ourselves uncritically singing about the best old place of all, making an arm motion normally reserved for hate crimes in adoration of our alma mater. The “colorful” parts of our Princeton experience will fade into a fond orange and black. Things like the gut-wrenching all-nighters you pulled. Racist Yik Yaks. The quality of your thesis. The time you drunkenly adventured into an East Pyne window well and then people walked by so you decided to stay until they passed because you didn’t want them to think you were weird but instead they sat on a nearby bench and had an intensely personal conversation, but you kept waiting because it was already too late to leave and before you knew it an hour had passed and you needed to use the bathroom and you ran out and everyone started screaming in unison because they knew you had been there listening for a whole hour. You know, stuff that happened to everyone.
We can’t forget that that’s all part of Princeton too. It wasn’t all color-corrected castles and fantasy adventure, and not every building looked like a Hogwarts. But that’s not a bad thing. It’s important to remember the weird bits and struggles too, because there’s still a dumb, halfwinking charm in Wilson’s rectangular ivy, a spell in its incurable insect infestations, and a soul trapped in each one of the interlocking, orange-and-teal runes beneath its windows. Wilson is strange and compromising, at times ugly, and at all times not a castle.
But the magic of Hogwarts did not come from the castle. It came from the sum of every experience: the good, the bad, the tragic, and the wonderful alike. Every one of those moments is just as important as the picture perfect memories that nostalgia might leave us with in 40 years. Imperfections are part of Princeton, and part of life, but that doesn’t take away from the magic of it all.
Andrew Sondern ’15, a native of Kansas City, Mo., will be interning in the art department of The New York Times in the coming year.