Being smart does not mean you get all A’s, and it certainly doesn’t mean you know the names and dates of every President of the United States or the exact definition of the Quadratic Formula. No, being smart has to do with choices. What does this have to do with Harry Potter? Everything. Think back to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets- when Dumbledore said: “It is our choices, Harry, who show us who we really are.”

Harry is not top of the class, he does not ace every exam, and he doesn’t always make the right decisions. But in Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge taught Harry one of the most important lessons, but not intentionally, no. Harry realized how important Defense Against the Dark Arts was, and that Umbridge obviously wasn’t about to teach the class any useful hexes, so he took matters into his own hands and held private defense lessons to anyone who wanted them: the D.A. Harry wasn’t forced to do this. He chose to, which makes him very intelligent in my book.

I had an English teacher last year who I thought was exactly like Umbridge. She had an uncanny resemblance to her, she even looked like a toad! I’m not kidding. Her room was decorated in all purple and there was even a giant unicorn in the corner of the room, much like Umbridge and her frilly pink kittens office. I literally thought she was Professor Umbridge materialized out of the pages of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. She assigned homework left and right, had a girlish, yet menacing voice, and handed out detentions (or as she called it, ‘Drudgery’) like Santa giving kids presents. But, months later, as I got to know her, I found she was very different from Umbridge. Her choices were what set her apart from Professor Umbridge, which made the two very different indeed. I learned that she was actually a very nice person, and had the best intentions at heart.

Jo Rowling was incredibly clever for inventing the four Houses: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Because now when we meet a new student, we already know something about that person. If you’re in Ravenclaw, you must be very bright, Slytherin means you’re ambitious, Hufflepuffs are loyal, and Gryffindors are known for being very brave. That’s what you think. Look at Hermione- why isn’t she in Ravenclaw? What is Neville doing in Gryffindor, when he seems like he should be in Hufflepuff? Why is Harry in Gryffindor, when he would’ve done very well in Slytherin? Choices. That is what it all boils down to. So I ask you, not to be judgmental, because traits and qualities can be deceiving. So can grades, for that matter.

Knowledge, personality, everything- it’s the choices we make that truly matter. This is one of the strongest themes in all the Harry Potter books, and will continue to be. The next time you bomb your math test, or fail your History exam, remember this: grades don’t matter. As far as getting into a good college, yes grades certainly matter, but fifty years down the road, you’re not going to remember half the things you learned. It’s what you get out of it that matters above all else, and the choices you make that go along with it.