I remember the day I got accepted to Ryerson’s journalism program like it was yesterday.
I came home from school and found the letter during my daily ritual of rifling through the mail. I tore into it like a child opening a present on Christmas morning and scanned the full page of words looking for the only sentence that mattered.
When I realized I had been accepted I dropped the piece of paper and immediately reached for the phone. I dialed my mom’s number and held the phone to my ear with my shoulder.
Even though my hands were shaking, I managed to text “I GOT IN” to my group of friends before shouting the news to my mom as soon as she answered my call. I applied to other universities, but I knew Ryerson was the only one I wanted to hear from because I had already accepted that my Hogwarts letter definitely wasn’t coming.
Before getting my letter, I had taken the virtual tour of the residences several times, I knew all the classes a first-year journalism student had to take and I called the school so frequently with questions that I wouldn’t have been surprised if the undergraduate office secretary recognized my voice.
When I told a family friend about my upcoming move to Toronto, she said it was too bad I wasn’t going to a school in a university town like her daughter because I would be missing out on a true student experience. She was sure I would visit friends at other schools and regret not living in a student bubble where there’s a greater sense of school spirit.
I didn’t understand why someone would think that a “university town” or a “student bubble” sounded more enticing than Canada’s most populated and multicultural city. I grew up in Mississauga and regularly went to Toronto on the weekends because it was close enough to be accessible, but different enough to feel like I was in another country.
I remember spending my summer breaks walking down Queen Street West or in Kensington Market, observing the diversity in the people around me and wanting so badly to be part of it. My excitement to be accepted at a school that is well-known for its journalism program was paralleled by my excitement to have a permanent place in the city I loved to visit so often.
This wasn’t the last time people, Ryerson students and grads alike, would tell me about the different and somehow less enjoyable experience I should expect to have as a student at Ryerson.
Everyone seemed to write it off because it’s a commuter school and it doesn’t have a football team. I moved into residence and, while I enjoyed being a member of Ryerson’s community, it didn’t take long to notice that our campus clears out early in the evening.
On the weekends, the entire first-year population didn’t don a high-waisted skirt or a Canada Goose jacket to go to on-campus clubs like students at other universities do.
While I was crowded around a beer pong table in the kitchen of a small apartment, my friends at other schools were going to keggers at houses where rent was inexpensive enough for students to occupy the entire thing. They knew school chants, they never missed pub nights and they painted school colours on their faces for sports games.
What they had and we lacked was school spirit.
For the past two years, I’ve visited friends at Waterloo’s Wilfrid Laurier University for St. Patrick’s Day. Students wear their finest custom-made outfit accented with shamrock necklaces, glasses and hats from Dollarama. Their morning begins at a pancake kegger, where both the pancakes and the beer are dyed green with food colouring.
After this, green-clad students congregate on Ezra Street, a student housing area, occupying every house, backyard and roof in sight.
Last year’s attendance was estimated at 5,000. It was unlike anything I had ever done at Ryerson and I would be lying if I said that school spirit wasn’t redefined in my mind that day.
I’m not suggesting that thousands of students should skip class and party on Gould Street next week for St. Patrick’s Day.The fact is that Ryerson’s student bubble doesn’t span the entirety of Toronto like Wilfrid Laurier University’s does in Waterloo.
Our university has a different relationship with the city than schools in smaller towns and that makes it a challenge to host a street party nearby campus with an RSVP list of 5,000. City-university tensions arose in Kingston at Queen’s University’s homecoming last year. In 2008, police issued 619 tickets and made 140 arrests, resulting in a five-year hiatus on the annual street party.
However, it returned last year, drawing out an estimated 2,000 students and alumni to Aberdeen Street for a party that was policed by 103 officers. Kingston’s mayor was not as “loco for ho-co” as the Queen’s community was, and tweeted his disappointment to the school’s principal.
Fortunately for Ryerson, if our school was to host a party of that size, backlash from Mayor Rob Ford would be more of a surprise than his attendance – unless we were uniting to celebrate Pride Week.
Even with the lack of visible unity on our campus, I don’t think that means we’re lacking in school spirit. I can only speak for myself, but as I’m in the final few weeks of my undergraduate degree, I think my experiences are relatable to students who have engaged with the campus while at Ryerson.
I have been to more than one Ryerson sports game and I have a collection of free Ryerson Rams T-shirts to prove it. I spent just as many nights partying on the seventh floor of ILLC in first year as I have studying on the ninth floor of the library in fourth year. I have volunteered with campus groups, written for campus newspapers and attended campus events. I have waited in long lines for Tim Hortons on Monday mornings and in even longer lines for The Big Slice on Saturday nights. I’ve gotten lost in Kerr Hall, been frustrated with RAMSS, voted in student elections, found like-minded people and even discovered my passion for performing spoken word poetry. But most importantly, I’ve made memories that will last a lifetime. Just because those memories weren’t made at a campus event with the rest of my school around me, doesn’t make them any less meaningful.
I don’t think any Ryerson student should feel like they are missing out on a true student experience because they don’t have a football team to cheer for or a St. Patrick’s Day party that takes over the city.
Those aren’t the only ways to measure school spirit. I feel just as proud to tell people I’m graduating from Ryerson as I did when I first told my mom I got accepted. Going to school in Toronto has allowed me to explore my passions, and the students and instructors who I’ve encountered along the way have all contributed to my incredible experience at Ryerson.
I can’t be the only one who feels this way. And if many of Ryerson’s students are as proud as I am of my decision to choose this school, then doesn’t that count as school spirit?
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 12, 2014.