DISCLAIMER: I graduated on June 10, 2013. After four years at the esteemed School of Journalism of Ryerson University, I finally have a bachelor of journalism–cue your preferred BJ joke…There’s no way to describe exactly how important these four years have been, which is exactly the type of challenge that I like to tackle. Here are some of the highlights, starting with the ending. Please note that some of the dates, and times, are approximate.
Monday, June 10, 2013. 3:30 p.m.
“Bravo! Honour student! Very proud of you!
-Hehe thank you!
-I didn’t know.
-Me neither, actually. I got the surprise today at noon.”
That’s the conversation that my sister and I had just now, after I walked across the stage at the Ryerson Theatre, shook the hands of the powers that be at Ryerson University, and got my official bachelor of journalism diploma. I’ve graduated. Officially. I’m back to my seat now and I just sent these few messages to my sister. She wasn’t in Toronto this weekend, but she is watching the ceremony online, this livestream of the event being one thing that Ryerson has done right. (A two-ticket-per-student limit, however, being one thing it hasn’t done right, but no sweat.)
But yeah, I’ve graduated. Yay for me, right? I’m back to my seat, because I have to and also because now I’ll get to look at my other classmates. We’ve already watched the 2013 classes of Image Arts (i.e. Film Studies, New Media, Photography Studies) and of Interior Design. After us Jschoolers will be the Graphic Communication Management graduates. But for now, it’s the rest of us Jschoolers. As I sit down, I realize that I’m goddamn proud. This isn’t my first walk down the aisle and across the stage, as I graduated with a degree in psychology from the Université de Montréal in 2008. But I’m incredibly more proud of this experience, and it’s all a testament to the people that I have met in the past four years.
My last name being ‘Blouin-Gascon,’ I’m one of the first Jschoolers back to his/her seat, so I see most of my classmates make the walk. There’s Sam Rashid, and he’s mad chill. There’s Anne-Marie Vettorel, who was head managing editor of our newsroom at The Ryersonian this past semester, because she had the best sense of news out of us four MEs and she could rally dissidents. There’s Alan Who Dat Hudes, the man who never hides his passion for hockey and who will go wherever it takes him. Natasha Devi Singh too, always willing to laugh at whatever might be remotely funny at whatever random moment, also has her moment. They all walk across the stage, shaking the hands of Jschool professors at the end. One of them is Kamal Al-Solaylee, and I gave him a bear hug when it was my turn just a minute ago. Kamal is the first teacher that I had as a Jschooler–more on that in a minute–and it’s fitting that my time at Ryerson officially ends with the person who started it. How’s that for coming back full circle?
Seriously. I had absolutely no clue what to expect when I decided that I would attend the Ryerson School of Journalism, but the past four years have managed to fulfill every last one of the expectations that I had of the place–and then some. (And if anyone from Ryerson University happens to read this and is interested, I will sell the rights to this entire series for…”one hundred billion dollars!“) I remember visiting Ryerson in the summer of 2008 and being amazed at its School of Management. It showed, I thought, that the school definitely had a lot of money if it could afford such a building in such a prime location at Dundas and Bay.
Back home in Montreal, I looked at whether the university had a School of Journalism and, once I saw that it did, I applied. I wasn’t aware of the reputation and cachet of the Jschool, hailed as possibly the best in the country, and that’s probably what saved me from not applying. Had I known, I would have doubted myself. I was just a 23-year-old, a French dude with red hair born and raised in French Montréal. How could I possibly have thought that this supposedly incredible Jschool would welcome me?
But instead, I applied, sort of on a whim, and then I learned that applicants needed to submit a portfolio of up to six writing samples as well as a short essay. So I started writing, because I still didn’t have anything, really, that I could send the school–at least nothing in English. My essay, I remember, was only 418 words. Applicants needed to explain how a piece of journalism had influenced their motivation or desire to apply to Ryerson, or something like that. Being the person that I am, I of course wrote about season 5 of The Wire. It got me accepted at the Ryerson University School of Journalism, because of course it would. The Wire has never failed me.
Thursday, October 18, 2012. 2 p.m.
We’re driving to Tyndale University College & Seminary right now. There’s four of us in the car, four fifths of the #FunTimesAtJschool (i.e. more on that hashtag in the coming highlights) documentary team.
We’re driving to Tyndale University in order to shoot and record our sit-down interview with Dr. Anthony Hutchinson for the documentary we’re working on all semester long. The final product will be This is Not a Game, a 20-minute feature that looks at the alternative to Mayor Rob Ford’s so-called “war on gangs.” It will document the plight of Jam Johnson, a social worker from Toronto, and his quest for funding for his nba, or neighbourhood basketball association. In the wake of the horrible shootings of the summer of 2012, why is the mayor’s first instinct to further divide Torontonians? The city needs someone to lead and unite, not to further divide.
Our entire class will watch the final mini-documentaries, each of them the result of hours and hours (and hours and hours) of work, and in a matter of minutes it will all be over. It will leave a void in my life that I didn’t expect, probably because I didn’t expect to love working on this project so much.
But that’s coming for us much, much later on. Right now, we’re just driving, and the school is far–way, way past Bloor Street, all the way to Ballyconnor Court close to Steeles Avenue. I’m the one who booked this interview, and Tyndale is far. That’s how I explained it to my other team members even though the school really isn’t that far actually. It’s not Lakehead University, or even Brock University, let’s say. The other four fifths of my team laughed, because they’re from Toronto and they know that Steeles Avenue isn’t far. “It’s probably far to you, only because anything north of Bloor is,” they said. “Yeah, it’s like on The Lion King. Everything north of Bloor is in the shade, all in black. And you must never venture there.”
Ouch. Touché coulé. This is Not a Game is undeniably the crown jewel of my time at Ryerson (i.e. it’s not even close, really), and it’s in large part because our team is the perfect one. I’m senior researcher as well as part-time camera Anastasia Moskvitina is the perfect editor in that she knows just how to bring to life every last one of our crazy concepts, or she’d die trying to do it. And that’s all anyone can ask for–that she tries, not that she dies trying… Dillon Lobo, it seems, has always had a camera in hand for a full twelve weeks this semester. He’s learned to grow into the role and not to give two sh*ts whether he is imposing himself, or his camera. If we need a shot, we need a shot. (Ish.) And always, Dillon makes it happen. Ché Pereira is possibly the nicest guy you will ever meet, his good character putting to shame even his legendary culinary knowledge. Every day, he brings a bag of nuts for snack and every day, he offers you some because while you’ve told him “No, thank you,” for 15 days in a row, maybe on the 16th day you will decide that, “Why indeed, I would like some nuts, thank you!” Ché is a guy who asks you how you are doing and who is actually interested in your answer. As such, he is the perfect lead reporter. Theresa Do is producer of this operation, and our documentary wouldn’t have been the same without her. She is the producer, but it doesn’t mean that she delegates to the rest of us. It’s with her that I will pull an all-nighter inside the Mac editing lab the night before the first cut is due. (Plus, Theresa is one hell of a driver. Ish.)
Each and every one of us will go on to accomplish great things, and I’ll always be proud that we had this semester first.
Creating this documentary was a labour of love, a mission that I had been holding close to my heart for some time now. The original idea was mine, and I’m glad with the way it turned out. It was a labour of love, because the members of our team loved each other and worked well with each other. We all had assigned roles, but mainly each of us always looked to go the extra step. That’s why the documentary was great. Team #FunTimesAtJschool. Always.
Thursday, April 12, 2012. 11 a.m.
I’ve just finished talking after having raised my hand to comment on something–what a well-behaved student I am–in this, the last class of the Winter 2012 semester. Ivor Shapiro, as he’s done every single time that a student has raised his or her hand to say anything in class, asks me what my name is.
“My name is Alfonso.
-So what Alfonso is saying is that…”
Right then, I lose it and I point out to my professor that my name isn’t, in fact, Alfonso but Charles. (HA! Good one!)
This Ethics and Law in Journalism lecture is the very last thing that I must see through before I officially finish my third year of Jschool. Not everyone is that lucky, with final exams up ahead, but all of us in Ivor’s lecture today are there pro bono–there was a deadline for an essay three days earlier, which concluded everyone’s obligations as students registered in the JRN 123 course. We’re playing with house money by now (i.e. though gambling certainly remains frowned upon) and that’s why I felt like I could tell Ivor that my name was Alfonso–and it’s only after the class that my friend Wes Murray tells me that there is someone named Alfonso in Jschool (i.e. Alfonso Espina). What? I really didn’t know, and now I look like the idiot. Really, I was just going for laughs. (Good man, this Wes Murray by the way. He’s humble, funny, smart, and he became a fan of both the Men in Blazers podcast and The Wire after I expressly recommended them to him. He’s strong-minded, but picks his battles because he understands that not every last one of them is crucial. He’s also one half of the duo who coined my ‘CBG’ nickname.)
But telling Ivor Shapiro that my name is Alfonso is not the dumbest thing that I’ve done in Ethics and Law. Not even close.
Today, I’m wearing my #FunTimesAtJschool tshirt, which I may or may not have paid $35 at a store on Queen Street to have custom-made. And that shirt will, or already has by now, become one half of my legacy at Ryerson (i.e. the other half comes in a later post). Creating this shirt made such an impression that months later, in fourth year, the #FunTimesAtJschool hashtag will be included on the back of the official Journalism Course Union shirts. Perhaps most impressive, I will have had nothing to do with it. Still in our fourth year, fellow Jschoolers will continue using the hashtag long after I have stopped using it myself. A year after I invented the hashtag, it will have taken on a life of its own. The hashtag will have outlived me. And I’ll be very proud.
Today, the shirt is a novelty. Most of the Jschoolers can’t believe that I actually bought such a shirt–really, I myself can’t fully explain why I did. It’s stupid, silly, funny, and I absolutely love it.
I created the #FunTimesAtJschool hashtag as a joke. It was created specifically for Ivor Shapiro’s class because, sarcastic or real, the fun times never stopped. Dillon and Melissa Hashemian, whom I sat next to all semester, can attest as much. (Melissa is another good one, and I’d like to congratulate her on her engagement!)
And not to toot my own horn, but the #FunTimesAtJschool epiphany really is brilliant. (#PerksOfARyersonJschoolStudent, which I created at the same time, however, was not quite as popular.) All, or most of, third-year Jschoolers are in Ethics and Law every Thursday morning so everyone can understand the hashtag and its significance. I created it for Twitter as a way to mobilize the troops and to rally everyone around a common cause. I called our group the army before settling on the marching bang, presumably because there is no scenario where a group of Jschoolers like ours could ever have enemies. (HA!) It didn’t take long for the hashtag to be trending within the Jschool, most likely because I make a conscious effort of singling out every person who used it. I say something like, “The #FunTimesAtJschool marching band welcomes @CeeeBG, a new convert. We march on, because #WeOutHereGrindin. #RomeWasNotBuiltInADay.”
Soon enough, the hashtag is used to describe the experience of writing an Ethics and Law essay, of attending the 2012 Press Freedom in Canada conference to write a short feature about it, of listening to every guest speaker give his or her lecture, or to explain that time when Wes and Marta Czurylowicz wondered on Facebook whether I had died, or to convey the frustration at all the times that the clickers stopped functioning properly during the weekly quizzes.
All of this is #FunTimesAtJschool, even when it isn’t. The marching band will forever march on.
November 4, 2011. Noon.
Something’s wrong. I’m looking at my schedule for the upcoming Winter 2012 semester, and something’s off. I’m missing two of the classes (i.e. one is Copy Editing, another is an elective) that I had registered for over the summer and instead, I see this Reporting for TV Workshop. Wait, what?
Later that week, Bev Petrovic will explain to me that this is a new policy that’s being implemented this year–third-year students registered for one TV class must also take the other one. Because this policy didn’t exist when I filled my course intention at the end of second year, I had only signed up for TV Production Techniques thinking that I was allowed to. And because I had signed up for TV Production Techniques, the Jschool powers that be decided to sign me up for the other (and more demanding) Reporting for TV Workshop.
“This is so, so Ryerson,” I will then tell myself. “It’s like we’re the lab rats. I could always look to switch out of the class whenever my enrollment period opens on Blackboard over the Christmas break.” M’eh. Indeed, and thank God for that M’eh because it was a great decision to stay put.
I remember looking over the curriculum when I first applied to Ryerson, because I wanted to know how many TV classes were mandatory. There was one, in second year, and another three were optional. “Perfect,” I had said to myself. “I’ll take that one class, do as little work as possible and then move on and never look back.” I was going to Ryerson to make it as a feature writer and until that day of November 2011 in third year, that remained the plan–except for that second TV class I had voluntarily registered for, of course. Only now, I found myself joining a class where the mandate would be to produce a 30-minute newscast every single week for nine weeks straight. How did I get here?
Well how ever I did, I’m happy that it led me to that Reporting for TV Workshop. It would become my favourite class of my first three years of Jschool in part because it would be so challenging and rewarding. For the class, every student takes on nine different roles for the nine newscasts, and I personally start as the producer of the very first show.
That means that on the first week, I am the key (i.e. as any good producer knows, I learn quickly to overstate my own importance and minimize my failings). The entire class takes its cues from the producer, and if I panic then everyone does. But I don’t. Jeyan Jeganathan is my assignment editor, and he makes my life easy. That’s how I’ll first meet the man whose passion for the Toronto Raptors is such that about eight months later, he’ll be excited to get his hands on the new NBA 2K13 videogame to see a glimpse into the team’s future with Jonas Valanciunas. Jonas Valanciunas! More importantly, Jeyan will become one half of a great reporting duo for The Ryersonian during fourth year. He and Cassandra Juradinho will follow the Ryerson Rams on what will become an ultimately disappointing second half to their CIS season. (Cassandra is another Jschooler that I’m happy to call a friend, if only because she’s a full-time 20-something-year-old mother who dabbles into being a full-time student. Strong much? I don’t think I could do it, for reasons that have nothing to do with the fact that I’m not a woman.)
Without that class, I never would have been part of the great documentary short that turned out to be This is Not a Game. Neither would I have made this pretty good feature for Northpolehoops about the 2012 NPH Ontario Showcase.
What’s more, the second half of my Jschool legacy, the infamous series The Putin of Poutines, never would have existed. (The stakes couldn’t have been higher, in retrospect.) I’m humbled, and beyond thrilled, that the Gods of the Ryerson Communications Centre loved the series enough to add the Banh Mi Boys episode to the collection of videos that play, on a loop, on the RCC television sets. The series is silly by nature and showcases how great I can be at dry humour. (Jagg Carr-Locke‘s words, not my own.) Though I created, produced, edited and starred in the five-part series–call me Louis C.K.–I couldn’t have done it alone. Many other Jschoolers helped me out, and I’m grateful for every one of them. I owe a lot to Theresa, Jeyan, Anastasia, Andrew Evans, the ever-positive and ever-smiling Ena Goquiolay and Jannen Belbeck.
For good measure, let me say a few words on Ms. Belbeck, who’s one of the last five Jschoolers that I met in my last semester. What she lacks in stature (i.e. she’s five-foot-three ), she makes up for in something like clairvoyance. Life isn’t simple for everyone, but it is for her: she aspires to be the best version of herself, and believes in herself and in her capacity to navigate the world. I can appreciate that, because I’m not totally like that. She’s also a great copy editor–with plenty of training and experience–as well as a great video editor despite, here, little training and experience. If the last two episodes of The Putin of Poutines turned out as well as they did, it’s in part because of her.
April 10, 2011. 5 p.m.
Ever since we started almost two years ago, all of us Jschoolers have been held to the standard of working journalists. But apparently, it’s not only in grading our stories that Jschool professors see us as pros. See, Jschool profs also go drinking with their pupils at Ryerson–because every self-respecting journalist will go drinking. It happened in first year, and I wondered then whether this was just a fluke. Nope, because it’s happened again this year.
We’re all at the Library–the bar, not the real one–and we’re all drinking, profs with students, profs with profs and students with students. We’re all drinking, and that’s probably how I came to the conclusion that I’d steal the king and queen pieces of the chess set that’s out on the table. As any aficionado of The Wire will tell you, chess has a special meaning and, because I pride myself on being the biggest fan of the HBO series that you will ever meet I decide that it’s only right that I walk out with the king and queen. (To this day, I still have the pieces by the way.)
So yeah, we’re all drinking at the Library, and Andrew Evans is sitting beside me. He’s a good man, this Andrew Evans. He’s probably no more than the fifth Jschooler that I spoke to on the very first day of first year, and our friendship has grown steadily since.
This friendship was obvious from the start. Like me, Andrew came to Ryerson after finishing a first degree in Winnipeg. He is also, like I am, an awkward, at times hilarious, witty Caucasian male in his twenties who’s trying to navigate the world of Jschool that is dominated by teenagers. (Where they say X, we say Y.) Perhaps most important, Andrew loves The Wire. He’s told me this early on in first year, and he’s a good man for this fandom. Over time, he will also accomplish many things that I tried to do myself. He’ll intern at a newspaper after first year, get an internship at The Score after second year and another one at Yahoo! after graduating. My beloved series The Putin of Poutines was also imagined with, in part, his short-lived and equally dumb series Cinemagony. I look up to him, and I wish him nothing but the best–he’s a smart guy, I’m not worried. Andrew Evans is a good man. Alas, he’s a short man. I’m six-foot-two. He stands five-foot-10. With heels on.
This post is the 97th that I write on this website. The dirty secret about A man must have a code is that it was created as a class assignment. I never thought much about blogs before Jschool, but here I was in Dan Westell’s tutorial class of JRN 112 Introduction to Online Journalism creating a blog because I had to. Dan told us that we could use our very own government name for the name of our blog, but “www.charlesblouingascon.wordpress.com” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Plus, it felt so lame to use my given name for the name of my creation (i.e. no offense to anyone who may have done precisely just that). Instead, I turned to my single favourite thing in the world. In one class that January of 2011, I spent a good 15-20 minutes searching for the perfect quote from The Wire. Probably by sheer luck, I saw this gem from Bunk Moreland, in episode 7 of season 1, who tells Omar Little that, “A man must have a code.” Boom. It was, like Kylie Minogue put it, love at first sight.
A man must have a code is perfect, because it represents precisely what I, and the blog, stand for. A code guides you to your goals, picks you up when you’re down and helps you keep things in perspective. Always. That’s probably why my second post on this blog was on the runner-up to Miss America 2011. (Oops. In my defense, just listen to her.) Ninety-five posts and about 70,000 words later, the blog is still going strong. Is it perfect? Far from it, actually. I definitely could invest some time and money into the look, the layout and the marketing. But I’m mostly interested in writing, here. I know that wherever I am in life, I will never stop writing on A man must have a code. I’ll always hold on to these king and queen chess pieces.
September 29, 2009. 2:30 p.m.
“What the hell am I doing here?” That’s what I keep telling myself, as I walk South on George Street from Gerrard Street–oh and that, too: “And where in the hell am I?”
I have no clue yet, but I’m walking toward Seaton House, only the biggest homeless shelter in all of Toronto. Just two minutes ago, I asked a man for an interview at the corner or Gerrard and George. He’s the one who said that I ought to go to Seaton House to talk to a Thomas Fulgosi, “because he’ll be better able to help you with your questions.”
Right…”Wait, Thomas…How do you spell Ful-F, U, L?”
“Yeah, Fulgosi. Thomas Fulgosi,” he says, and leaves. “Damn. Well, I guess I’m about to go meet the man, regardless of how you spell his name.”
But this story starts about two hours earlier. I’m inside a classroom at the Rogers Communications Centre, listening to Kamal Al-Solaylee explain to us that we will be doing a streeter today. We’re in the fourth week of our Jschool experience, and this is technically the very first streeter of what will become a long and storied career for all of us. (We had a first streeter assignment two weeks earlier, but we could stay on campus so it doesn’t really count.) So far, the first month of Jschool has been great, but I might need to reassess everything after today. For non-Jschoolers, here’s a gist of how streeters work–each of us has about four hours to 1) do research on topic X (i.e. today, H1N1), 2) conduct interviews with at least four or five total and random strangers in the streets of downtown Toronto, 3) takes notes/quotes for said interviews, 4) run back to the RCC, and 5) write and file a 500-word story by 6 p.m. that day. (Be aware that “eat” isn’t included. It’s an option, a luxury.)
In the next two hours, I will fail miserably at convincing strangers that they should talk to the guy with the thick French accent. I will fail, probably because I will want to talk to them about as much as they want to talk to me. It will be so bad that I will start to think that maybe coming here, to Toronto and Ryerson University, was just a huge mistake–that’s why, now fast forward to the present, I don’t hesitate to walk to Seaton House to speak with that Thomas Fulgosi guy who will supposedly help me. That strip of George Street is scary, with plenty of drugs users and sellers, and homeless people just hanging by the homeless shelter. It’s not dangerous per se, but it looks to be. The scene will stay with me so much that, in second year, I will decide to write my place feature on Seaton House.
It’s only the fourth week of classes, and I end up at Seaton House working on a story about the H1N1 scare. See? I started from the bottom.
I left everything and everyone behind when I moved to Toronto. I left my mother, my father, my sister, my baby brother, the rest of my family, as well as many, many great, great friends. To say that it was hard is an understatement–I remember crying the night before leaving as I said bye to my friends (i.e. alcohol very well may or may not have been involved). It was hard for another reason too. I’m not exactly proud of it either, but a little part of me applied to Ryerson for all of the wrong reasons (i.e. a hint: it involves a boy, a girl, and a relationship that unravels before I even step foot on the Ryerson campus).
That being said, I still came to Ryerson. I felt like I needed to leave Montreal, because my life had reached a point where I couldn’t see where, or how, I would grow as an individual. I felt like I had reached a plateau. I craved new opportunities, and Toronto provided them to me. I’m now a regular columnist for the fine folks of The Good Point and Tennis Connected, and I’m also a CIS Correspondent for Northpolehoops. I left, because I knew that my family would always support me whether it be in Montreal, Toronto or anywhere else. They’re anything, and more, that I could ever want.
I was always a long shot for the Jschool, the (ginger) 23-year-old French Canadian who decided to move to the biggest city in Canada despite never having gone to school in English. If I adopted Toronto as my own, it’s because the city adopted me. That’s a testament to everyone that I met along the way–the Jschoolers that I did name in the previous five posts as well as others like Gabe Lee, whose dedication to Kobe Bryant only has equal his gift at coining nicknames. There are Dexter Brown, Sean Tepper, Sophiti Johnson, Max ‘The Lighting Kid’ Haberstroh, Derek ‘Capt.’ Kirk too. The very first friends that I made in Toronto, in residence at the International Living and Learning Centre, have seen how much I’ve changed and how much I’ve grown to love Toronto since I arrived in 2009–Steve Bed, Miriam Benji, Pedram Shokouhi Curiel, Zina Dajani, Thomas Dreesen, Carolyn Eichhorn, Omid Paydar, Sam Torabi, and Joseph Waddington, I’m happy to count you among my friends.
Montreal will always have my heart, but don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere, Toronto. I arrived at Ryerson uneasy, a 23-year-old French Canadian who was actually much, much younger than that. In 2013, I’m a new man. I’ve graduated and with honours, mind you. Plus, I have a beard now, and it’s a mean one.