Some favourite Canadians, including Q host Jian Ghomeshi, author Michael Winter, head of Twitter Canada Kirstine Stewart and some of the country's top education leaders, remember what it was like to head back to school
Q host Jian Ghomeshi
The first day of school was usually the cause of great anxiety for me. It started with my name. Not that I would call it anxiety at the time. Or know how to articulate the problem. But it didn't help that I grew up in Thornhill with an uncommon ethnic name in a mostly homogeneous Anglo community. I'd wait with dread for the inevitable moment at the beginning of a new class where the teacher would conspicuously pause upon arriving at my name when reading out attendance. I could see the fear in the teacher's eyes: "How ...am I supposed to say this word…J-i-a-n?"
The fear might turn to anger…"couldn't this kid be named Tom or Rick?! I don't make enough money to have to deal with names like this." Eventually the teacher would learn my name. At least, some of the time. I generally wished that I had been a Rick. And that my nose was smaller. The last thing I wanted on the first day of school was to stand out. But resistance was futile.
My greatest advice for students would be to not fear the ways in which you might feel unique or different. School for me often felt like an exercise in trying to fit in – even when that was challenging as a first-generation immigrant. And if I'd known that it would eventually be OK – beneficial, even – to be unique, it would have been easier for me. The best thing parents and educators can do is to celebrate that diversity and not ignore those differences.
Jian Ghomeshi is the host of Q on CBC Radio and the author of 1982.
Governor-General David Johnston
The most important thing any parent or teacher can do for a child who is returning to school is to help that young person discover the joy of learning.
From a very young age, children voice the question, "Why?"
That natural curiosity should be nurtured and celebrated so that the child finds learning to be a lifelong, enormously fulfilling experience, one that is best developed by sharing with others.
David Johnston is the Governor-General of Canada, former president of the University of Waterloo and former principal of McGill University.
Musicians Tegan and Sara
By Tegan Quin:
As the "sensitive" twin in Sara and I's twosome, the first day of school was always fraught with anxiety and trauma for me. It obviously made sense to split up twins into separate classrooms - but to this twin it was unfair and terrifying to be pried off my sister and my mother every early September of my childhood.
I am not ashamed to say that I cried during roll call - when we were put into different classes - every year until 6th grade. And I still cried that year, I just had the sense to do it alone in the bathroom rather than in front of my new classmates.
The week leading up to the first day of school was really when I felt the most doom though. By the first day of school I was already prepared for the devastation of being separated from Sara. The tears were almost a sign of relief. It was the denial leading up to the first day of school that really caused the long-term damage I still deal with today. The fake enthusiasm about back to school clothes shopping - that could have been the additional trauma of being a tomboy - or the hysteria about binders and pens and pencils. I can remember packing and repacking my new backpack in the wee hours before the first day of school. Did I have enough pencils? Would anyone else have the same pencilcase as me? Should I pair my red sweat pants with the matching red and white teddy-bear sweater or should I try something bold like a giant oversized pink hyper-colour shirt?
I busied myself with these "bigger" life questions, distracting myself from the imminent ordeal of unravelling from Sara. The first day of school meant the first day of being one person rather than a pair.
But if I could time-travel back to give myself any advice now, I think I'd just push for the pink hyper-coloured shirt rather than Sara and I to share a classroom. In the end, we always really enjoyed meeting up at the end of the day to compare notes. Obviously the teachers were on to something. I just was too attached, come summer's end, to know that.
Tegan and Sara are currently touring their new album, Heartthrob, across North America.
Tegan and Sara.
Author Michael Winter
The evening before the first day of kindergarten I still couldn’t pronounce the “J” sound. I said “say” instead of “jay.” My mother practised with me and I remember the moment, sitting on our yellow couch, when I found the configuration in my mouth, getting the tip of my tongue above my front teeth and saying “jay.” I was so excited to be finally armed with the full alphabet.
The next morning my mother walked me to the back of C.C. Loughlin and left me there. The Grade one students on an embankment sang out with great derision, “Kindergarten baby, wash your face in gravy.”
In class the first thing we did was belt out the alphabet. It felt great to do this together, until we got to “J.” I said “Say” and heard my voice and stopped and let the rest of the class finish. This was my first wide-awake self-conscious moment in life, though I don’t think anyone else noticed.
I have no advice. School can be tough. I was beaten up, urinated on and picked last and had to fight a girl and had my jean jacket stolen and in turn I tried being a bully though instead I had the shit kicked out of me. I learned fast to hide and be quiet and dream an imaginary life. Thank god I have a happy constitution. It wasn’t until my twenties, when I slept with a woman who had gone through school with me and I had pictured as being part of the golden in-crowd that I realized my school experience is pretty common. I guess the only advice is to listen. Listen to your children as they try to pronounce their letters.
Michael Winter is the author of five novels, including Minister Without Portfolio, out this fall.
McGill's Suzanne Fortier
These first days were just so terribly exciting.
I was the first in my family to attend university. I did not speak English, but did it feel great to be part of a new world, surrounded by students coming from all over. I could not have imagined how different this new world would be, and again how exciting the experience would be.
It’s a journey of discovery, make the most of it.
Suzanne Fortier is principal-designate at McGill University where she will begin her term on Sept. 5.
Dragons' Den David Chilton
I remember my first day of school quite fondly for a very simple reason: We only had to stay for an hour! Anybody can do 60 minutes. When they bumped it to four hours the next day, I was bitter. I still am. And the full day they threw at us in Grade One? Crazy.
The only advice I can offer is this: Remember that we learn by asking questions not answering them. Above all else, foster curiosity.
David Chilton is the author of The Wealthy Barber and one of the investors and venture capitalists on Dragons' Den.
Media exec Kirstine Stewart
I had a very interesting first few weeks in school when I first went to kindergarten. I was thrilled to go, and every morning the teacher would pick a kid to lead the class, carrying the Canadian flag, while the rest played the anthem on tambourines and drums. The day it came to my turn, the VP, Mr. Drapeau, appeared at the door and said "Kirstine, can I see you please?" I left the class and was put directly into Grade One, and I never got to wave the flag.
Been trying to do so ever since!
Kirstine Stewart is the managing director of Twitter Canada
Kirstine Stewart ANTHONY JENKINS
Dalhousie U President Richard Florizone
My most vivid memory of university is the powerful emotional bookends of that first semester. At the beginning of the semester, an intense mix of excitement, anxiety, anticipation and thrill when contemplating new studies, new friends, a new city and a new life. At the end of the semester, the tremendous feeling of accomplishment.
Students: You’re entering a new intellectual environment, where professors will expect you to think more deeply and thoroughly than you ever have before. It’ll be hard work, but if you embrace this opportunity I promise this first semester will be among the most transformative experiences of your life. So enjoy orientation week, but then focus on your studies – and embrace the life of the mind.
Parents: Let go. Think back to when you first went to university or left home. You’ll remember this is a time of significant personal growth. Your daughter or son needs the space to explore, make new friends and navigate challenges on their own. ... University is about learning and discovery. Prepare to see a changed person in the coming months. It’s common for students to try out several majors, switch programs and discover new directions. Don’t be concerned if this happens; it’s all part of the journey.
Richard Florizone is the president of Dalhousie University.
Nipissing U president Michael DeGagné
In 1978, I drove with my parents to Toronto from Sudbury to begin my studies. We didn't realize that Scarborough College was not in downtown Toronto. Upon finally arriving, we were told that I hadn't applied for residence. With the help of the Scarborough College staff, by day's end I had a room and was enrolled in class.
Today's students seem far more organized. But what I learned that day was to ask for help, something that served me well through many years of university life.
Education is not a solitary exercise. It is a collective experience, and you will learn as much from those around you as you will in class. Take advantage of all the services and resources the university has to offer. The most useful tool available to you is your ability to ask questions.
Michael DeGagné is president of Nipissing University.