My job allows me the opportunity to visit American cities from time to time and to have dinner with clients. I understand why we break bread together and I enjoy it, but the potential for awkwardness is always in the air when we try to manufacture intimacy.
There’s weather and kids and dogs and the work we’re doing together. We avoid politics, wherever possible. While I might veer into travel or the cities I have lived in and love, Americans prefer to talk about their alma mater.
They do it with ease and enormous pride. They know exactly what to say, even when they feel their university is losing its way. They continue to follow and support their school, financially and emotionally. Even if they now live far away from the University of Michigan or Rutgers or Georgia Tech or Princeton, they follow their sports teams the way Canadians follow NHL.
In the U.S., your college doesn’t say something about you. Fair or not, your college says everything about you.
I’m glad that Canadian universities don’t put us in an inescapable status box. Yet we could do a much better job of preparing one another for what our school means — what makes it different and special, what it does to the world.
Before I began writing for New Trail, I admit I had trouble participating in these conversations. It wasn’t as though I wasn’t a proud graduate of the U of A. I just didn’t think too much about it, apart from empty superlatives. It’s great! It’s large! It’s successful!
In the past few years I’ve been delighted by the opportunity to think about and fall in love with my school: its origin, its firsts, its inventions, but primarily its people. The U of A, at its best, is a distillation of my hometown at its best. For a long time, this place was isolated and far from easy imports. We worked together, solved our own problems, and when these solutions were ready we took them to the world. It’s still happening.
Writing for New Trail has helped me take the school apart and put it back together again in my small way, every few months. Readers have been kind enough to send me suggestions, ideas, complaints and corrections — and new trails.
The year I graduated from the U of A, I could not have imagined doing what I am doing today: in business, in the arts, as a volunteer, as a dad. But the books I read and how I read them, the ways I spectacularly failed and modestly succeeded, my friends and my professors, The Gateway and Dewey’s, and the odd meditative hour on the grass between the Business building, the Arts building, HUB and Rutherford Library: these all helped make much of what is good about my life possible. Sometimes the U of A lets me down, but only because the university taught me to understand its potential.
This is my last column in the magazine, but it has been a genuine honour to learn about my university and its people in the act of writing Whatsoever Things Are True. I’ll continue learning, in my informal yet obsessive way.
I’m writing this from Australia. Tonight, I will have a glass of wine with clients and — after defending Canadian weather, deciphering hockey and showing pictures of my wife and kids and dog — I know just what to say about the U of A.
Thanks, everyone. Go Bears! Go Pandas!