I didn’t want to go to this alumni evening!

“Donna, just remember, if you choose to go to Ryerson, that’s your decision. But no matter how far you go, or how well you do, you’ll never be as good as the university graduate!”

With those words, my grade 13 guidance counsellor sent me on my way. It didn’t matter that I’d written letters to the top 15 daily newspapers across the country, asking where their best journalism grads came from. It didn’t matter that 13 of them wrote me back. It didn’t matter that 11 of them said “Ryerson.

Fast forward 44 years from graduation. When I first got the email invitation to gather with Ryerson grads in Barrie, I was enthused. (do you know there are 2800 Ryerson grads in the Barrie area?)  After all, I spent years immersing myself in journalism at Ryerson and it supported me in the important direction I wanted to go.  And then a longtime friend and I discovered we were both Ryerson grads and we decided to go together.

But last Thursday was a snowy, stormy night and I’d had a long day and I really just wanted to curl up at home. But she was picking me up and it was a commitment and…  ever have those times in your life?

Am I ever glad I went!

I attended Ryerson in the late 60’s. I came out of a high school system that had three directions:  trades, office administration, university. Ryerson had mysterious status in the late 60’s, except for those of us seeking higher learning with a practical bent. If you were that type of person, being at Ryerson was absolute heaven!

And meeting people I’ve known forever in Barrie and finding they too are Rye grads–people like Neil Fox and Ron Henderson who predated me at Rye–well, it was turning into a nice night. We got into an interesting discussion about what we paid for tuition (the young woman who graduated in 2009 paid $6700), I paid $364, and the folks in the 80’s.. well, you get the picture.

But the tremendous excitement of the evening occurred when Adam Kahan, vice president of University Advancement took us with powerpoint through our old Ryerson neighbourhoods and showed us what our school had become! The old Yonge St A&A Record store and Sam the Record Man are now amalgamated properties and the dynamic site of new Student Learning Centre, all linked up to the university’s library.

The former O’Keefe Brewery Head Office, which housed the journalism department in the 60’s, is now the G Raymond Chang School of Continuous Learning. The front part of the building that has sentimental value for so many is cleverly incorporated into the new structure.

And I think many people know what’s become of Maple Leaf Gardens…a perfect combination of business, sports, education, convention accommodation. When there’s not a hockey game occurring the same bleachers can house a political convention and be making money for the school!

What makes this so exciting is it’s happened because Ryerson has intrigued and attracted the business community. Business has muscled its creativity and drilled deep into its pockets while Ryerson was busy attracting appropriate government funding to shape these initiatives.

For each of these initiatives, reknown architects have showcased their talent and resources to blend today with this wonderful educational history of the 50’s to make it happen.

Perhaps the most dynamic (and yet, true to Ryerson’s core) advancement shared was the 2010 launch of Digital Media Zone two years ago. This lab learning environment is attracting bright, innovative students and it’s challenging education like never before. Students are designing and developing, full R&D activity, at Digital Media Zone. Their ideas are achieving funding reality and they’re leaving school with invented and produced products, a viable business plan, funding and development and a business intact.

In many education environments, the professor would be whining about how XX missed class again, how XX assignment was never submitted. At DMZ/Ryerson, students are invested in themselves and education is pacing their needs instead of dictating it to them. It’s a healthy dose of business/education/angel investment that’s making it happen. (www.ryerson/ca)

This element of my alma mater is definitely cutting edge, an incubation program that attracts students who are entrepreneurial, innovative, driven and focussed can actually build their futures. Wow!

Now, if I could, I’d like to go back to my guidance teacher, cock my head to one side, and say gently, “there are other ways, not better, not worse… just different!”

Welcome to different! Thanks, Ryerson!