This feature first appeared in the Fall 2023 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.
London, England, 1997: Book agent Barry Cunningham is celebrating. For the past year, he has made the rounds to publishing houses pitching a manuscript from a first-time author. Numerous houses rejected the 90,000-word story claiming it was too long for a children's book. But finally, one small house decided to take a chance on the manuscript.
Bloomsbury, a fledgling publisher agreed to print a short run of 500 copies and gave the new author an advance of £1,500 (approximately $2,000).
The 500 copies disappeared almost overnight with 200 sold to bookstores and the remaining 300 to libraries. It was an auspicious beginning for the author J.K. Rowling. But neither she nor Bloomsbury had any inkling that book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone would ignite a worldwide reading frenzy for children of all ages.
More than 120 million copies of Philosopher's Stone ("philosopher" was changed to "sorcerer" in the United States) would eventually be sold, and over the next decade Rowling would publish six more books in the series and, in the process, propel Bloomsbury to the top of the European publishing world and make Rowling a billionaire.
The books have been translated into 80 different languages and more than 500 million copies of the Harry Potter books have been sold. Laid end-to-end, they would circle the Equator more than 16 times.
The number of people who eagerly read (and) reread, Rowling's books is astounding: In the United States alone, 18 percent of the population has read the entire series, 31 percent have read at least one book and among adults between the ages of 18 and 34, 32 percent have read all of the books.
Full disclosure: On the night of the release of the third book, I found myself walking into Walmart at 3:00 a.m. to purchase multiple copies so that my family would not squabble over whose turn it was to read.
A true Potterhead
The term "Potterhead" describes a person devoted to all things Harry Potter, and one of these die-hard fans is Samantha Guynn, age 18 of Blacksburg, Virginia.
In addition to reading each book multiple times, Guynn has watched the movies more times than she can count. Her favorite is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and her choice of fictional character is obvious. "I would so be Hermione Granger," she declared, "she's very logical and academically driven like me. The unfortunate truth, however, is that I am in fact a muggle and not a wizard."
She is the proud owner of a Gryffindor scarf and cloak, which she has proudly worn a time or two. She completes the ensemble by wielding an authentic copy of Hermione's wand. Her favorite quote from the books is one many of us would love to whisper as we huddle under the Invisibility Cloak, holding the Marauders Map, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
"I just think the imaginary Harry Potter world is so cool," she shared. "A fantasy land where not everything is perfect, where they still have real life problems, but have magic to help solve their problems."
Her brother Will is also a Potterhead — for his senior trip, he traveled to London where he had the opportunity to open the doors to Hogwarts' Great Hall. On road trips the siblings have been known to view four of the Harry Potter movies back-to-back.
"Watching the movies reminds me of my childhood," explained Guynn. "My brother and I bonded over the series." Together, the two have amassed a collection of Potter paraphernalia so vast it fills a bedroom. "Unfortunately, I can't take it all to college with me," Guynn laughed.
Guynn enjoys reading and watching movies about a fantasy world, but when it comes to real life, she is absolutely killing it! She just wrapped up a successful high school career, graduating with a weighted GPA of 4.12. She also completed eight IT certifications, two more in the cooking arts (her best dish is cheesecake), and was one of two students named the 2023 Career and Technical Education Student Award by the local Rotary Club.
She may possess a Hermione-esque dedication to academic excellence, but that does not mean that subject mastery comes easy or that it prevents failure from happening, especially if one is prone to overthinking problems.
"I am an anxious test taker," admits Guynn. "It feels like it's inevitable and the most challenging aspect of certification was getting out of my own head and not overthinking exam scenarios."
Determination, hard work, and copious amounts of time spent studying did help her get through all of her cert exams on the first attempt, except for one, the Microsoft Security Compliance and Identity Fundamentals exam. "It took me three times to actually pass that cert," she said. "The first two times I was just under 100 points from a passing grade."
Failure often stings, and the eager scholar felt this one hard. "It hurts me when I fail at something and the disheartening feeling of not completing that cert really got to me," said Guynn.
Fortunately, for the downhearted young lady, she was enrolled at Blacksburg High and had Jay Mathis as her cybersecurity instructor to provide encouragement and emotional support.
"Failing really got to me, but neither Mr. Mathis nor myself would let me back down from getting that certification," explained Guynn. "He [Mathis] said, 'we'll get it next time, don't worry, I have vouchers for a reason and you aren't the only one who failed the exam.' "
Mathis did more than provide encouragement, he also plied Guynn and other students with extra trial questions and tips for taking the exam. The extra study sessions paid off. "I just kept studying and working at it and I passed the exam on my third attempt — I felt so relieved," she said.
Guynn's introduction to information technology came by happenstance during her last year of middle school when she walked past her older brother, Andrew, who was sitting at the kitchen table. "He was using the TestOut learning platform and I was intrigued by the way the labs were set up," she explained.
"I asked what he was doing, he replied, 'cybersecurity,' and I said, that looks fun and then when I got into high school, I took the class my first year and loved it!"
A professed dissectologist, Guynn found LabSim's exercises interesting and enjoyable. "Whether it be a simple troubleshooting lab or just plugging some wires into a motherboard, I wanted to know how the world of electronics actually worked and the cybersecurity classes demonstrated everything I was looking for," she explained.
In addition to having a great teacher and a desire to learn, the apprentice IT pro also had help close by at home. "It was easy for me to ask my brother for help," she stated. "He was very encouraging and always willing to help and explain things when I needed it."
Mathis was impressed at how quickly his new freshman student grasped the subject matter. "She embraced the material from day one and became a class leader in both my cybersecurity and information systems classes," he said.
"It was thrilling to see her dig into every certification with an excitement and determination that was not only refreshing for me as a teacher, but also incredibly motivating to my other students."
Keep on cooking
When not studying for cert exams, or enjoying a Harry Potter movie, Guynn holds down a job at a local eatery. After her sophomore year she interviewed at a restaurant that wasn't yet built.
"My interview was in a box trailer with the general manager," she explained. "They were looking to build a team and it seemed like a perfect opportunity for me to start a real job." Guynn works 20-30 hours a week during the school year, and full-time in the summer.
From the ground up, literally, she learned to work every position in the restaurant and, for some unknown reason, was christened "Samwise" by the kitchen manager. "I have no idea why but he does have nicknames for all of us," she said.
The owners of Mission BBQ pride themselves on treating employees like a family, something Guynn especially enjoys. "As a team of employees, we're always making a little ruckus, be it laughing and fighting like siblings, sometimes having heart-to-heart talks, and even pulling pranks on our shift manager," she chuckled.
Her manager, Kyle Vondohlen, describes Guynn as "something special" possessed with a great personality and sense of humor. "Even when things are stressful, she laughs her way through no matter what is happening, good or bad," he shared.
Balancing a heavy school load and working means that time to relax must be found, and for Guynn, that gives her time away from the stresses of a busy schedule. "I enjoy the energy that comes from lifting, and if I can lift at 5:30 in the morning, the rest of the day isn't gonna be that bad," she shared. Her favorite lift is the bench press where she does sets with 50-pound dumbbells.
Off to college
In the fall, Guynn will head to Florida to attend Flagler College, a private liberal arts college that she says, "kind of resembles Hogwarts." Which is appropriate as her senior yearbook quote reads: "I finally received my letter to Hogwarts." Even the college's crest looks suspiciously similar to Gryffindor's.
She will not be traveling to the Sunshine State alone. Her traveling companion will be Zella, her dog, whose birthday is July 31 — just like Harry Potter's. Having earned a spot in Flagler's Honors Program, she plans on double majoring in criminology and psychology with a minor in computer information systems.
"I want to become a forensic analyst, but since no one actually knows what that is, I describe it as Penelope Garcia from Criminal Minds," Guynn explained.
Her desire to explore and understand the minds of wrong-doers began in high school with a psychology class. "Psych came easy for me," she shared, "learning a little about how the brain functions and people's behavior and stuff was interesting."
A future job helping to capture criminals may even seem more like fun than work since she enjoys binge watching crime shows and listening to true crime podcasts. "I really like learning how crimes were solved and listening to speakers talk about the crime," said Guynn. "It's relaxing and fun."
A supportive family
While Guynn is a true fan of all things Harry Potter, she and the titular character have had entirely different home lives. While young Harry grew up in the Dursley home, where he was barely tolerated and seen as a burden, Guynn was surrounded by people who loved and supported her at every turn.
Although her birth parents are divorced, and her dad has remarried, everyone gets along and Guynn loves and respects her stepmom. She counts herself fortunate to have a strong support system around her.
"My dad, my stepmom, and my mom are the most supportive people I've ever met," she shared. "They always seek to encourage me and my siblings to be successful and push us to be better than we believe ourselves capable of being."
Her senior trip was a two-week, Mediterranean cruise to several of the Greek Islands in the company of her mom, grandmother and mom's godmother. "It is definitely one of the coolest things I've ever experienced," she said.
Extended family has also played a significant role in Guynn's development, especially her aunt, Lt. Col. Carmen Jane Queensbury, a font of endless stories gathered througout her years in the military and known for the catch phrase, "You can sleep when dead, let's go have fun."
"Aunt Carmen is one of my biggest role models. She's the kind of person you can genuinely listen to for hours," said Guynn. "Some of my best memories are traveling with her and listening to her advice."
The best advice Carmen ever gave to her niece is, "to not let others hinder you, don't care what they think, just do you!" Guynn says she does try her best to follow that sage wisdom and is getting better at it.
Queensbury is also an attorney and during one of Guynn's visits, she had her fix the computer system and teach the paralegals how to use it for legal research. "I'm very impressed to have her as a niece," shared Queensbury, "whatever you have her do, she does it remarkably well."
One of the reasons that Harry Potter stories attracted people of all ages was the allure of living in a realm of magic and adventure away from the day-to-day humdrum of daily responsibilities. However, in a world of three-headed dogs, flying broomsticks and spells, the real magic in the stories is love, self-sacrifice, and family.
Not surprisingly that is the same sort of magic in Samantha Guynn's life.