Posted on Nov 19, 2010

Kerensa Hughes is a huge fan of Harry Potter. So when the sixth-grader saw the wand used by actor Daniel Radcliffe in the latest blockbuster movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1,” she burst with excitement.

Harry Potter wand Yates School

“My God, I’m actually seeing it. This is so cool,” Hughes said as she walked past the secure, climate-controlled glass case that usually holds prints from the College’s original copy of John James Audubon’s “Birds of America.”

“I think I might faint. My God, I’m actually seeing it right here at Union College!”

Friday was a special day for Hughes and 49 of her classmates from the Yates Magnet Elementary School in Schenectady. The students took a field trip to the Thelma and Kenneth Lally Reading Room of Schaffer Library to learn a little about Union’s history and their school’s namesake through the current Union Notables, a rotating exhibit that features three outstanding alumni and others connected to the College.

The College has an ongoing relationship with the Yates School. In 2007, students invited College President Stephen C. Ainlay to speak at their sixth-grade graduation. The following year, Ainlay invited Yates students from the school to campus, where they were given a tour and learned about other Union notables, including Chester Arthur (Class of 1848), U.S. president; and William H. Seward (1820), U.S. secretary of state under Lincoln.

“They are so excited to be here” said their teacher, Danielle Rossner. “They’ve been working on writing letters to colleges they might want to attend one day. Union is a great school right in their own backyard, and to see it in person gets them thinking about what they can achieve.”

Harry Potter wand Yates School

Ellen Fladger, head of the College’s Special Collections, gave the students an overview of Union’s history and showed off some pieces from the Collection. She also highlighted the work of Theodore Berger, who graduated summa cum laude from Union in 1972.

Students listened intently as Rachel Seligman, Mandeville Gallery director, shared the story of Joseph Yates, a founding trustee of the College who became the first mayor of Schenectady in 1798, at the age of 30. He also served as a New York state senator. In 1808 he became a judge of the New York State Supreme Court, where he served for 15 years.

Then it was time for the wand. Students wanted to know how it magically showed up at Union. Librarian Annette LeClair, a self-described “Potter-head,” explained that the wand was lent to the College by Alan Horn, a member of Union’s Class of 1964 and the president and chief operating officer of Warner Bros., producers of the Potter series.

“We were extremely delighted to get this wand in the mail one day,” LeClair said as Fladger removed the prop from its case and carefully displayed it to the students. After a brief discussion of Horn’s career sprinkled in with a few Potter tidbits, LeClair ended the presentation by reminding them of the words Horn delivered to the Class of 2010 at commencement.

Harry Potter wand Yates School

“Be a person of character. Integrity and honor are everything. Actions define your character, and your character will define the kind of life you have. Character requires courage.”

Afterward, students said they enjoyed the program and were especially excited to learn more about their school’s namesake. But they couldn’t stop talking about the wand.

“I can’t believe I saw the wand at Union College,” said Christina Dileva. “I was freaked out!”