You CAN Have an Impact
I met two amazing friends in Wexford Collegiate Institute, the high school I attended in Canada: Amanda and Robert. The three of us enrolled in classes focused on Fashion.
They were the years of Tim Blanks in Fashion File; movies like Prêt a Porter and Unzipped were released; streetwear mixed imitations of the corset Gaultier had designed for Madonna with the Lolita style Alicia Silverstone displayed in Aerosmith videos, and
Calvin Klein’s cool NY style. It was the last decade of the century and you could feel that. Everything seemed to be happening and we wanted to be part of it. That’s when Ryerson University announced its Fashion programs were had become University degrees: the first in North America.
They expected over 1200 applications for the year we were to apply and space was limited to some 350.
To increase our chances of getting in, we organized extracurricular school fashion shows; formed an association of fashion students within our school; we volunteered for brands; visited every museum exhibit and event related to fashion we could and requested participation certificates. They took every single Fashion and Design course we could in school, while I focused on Fashion and Communication. And, in the midst of it all, we learned that our school’s Fashion Illustration course would be shut down due to budget cuts.
We could’ve not cared, because the decision didn’t affect us. But our school was special: Arts were its major strength. The course would be vital for those who shared the same dream we had.
I headed to Mr. Ross’ office: a school counsellor and kind of mentor who always kept his door open to ideas and suggestions. I told him about our disappointment and sadness:
-They can’t cancel the course. It’s a bad decisión and it isn’t fair for future students –I said.
He looked at me silently for a while, as he smiled like always. One could tell Mr. Ross liked his job.
-There’s nothing I can do, but perhaps you can –he said, and began to explain that we could write a petition and collect signatures to present to the school board before the decision was final. So I wrote the petition down, made copies and met with Robert and Amanda to discuss our strategy: “we need to collect signatures.”
We didn’t have many days left: the schoolyear was about to conclude. We started off in our classes, asking our classmates to sign; we visited the classes of the teachers we knew best. But not everyone signed, and that came as a surprise. Not everyone cared. And not everyone was willing to support our cause, even if they didn’t care. At the same time, however, others wanted to become more involved and volunteered to help us collect signatures. Requirements were clear: Full Name, student number and a clear signature. All data would be verified by the school in order to take the petition under consideration. And there was a minimum of signatures we needed, which I forget what it was, but it was a lot!
What I do remember is that, on the very last day, we talked to a group of girls and one of them would have to switch schools because one of the courses she needed to get into the University program she wanted would no longer be available either. As she told her story, other kids gathered in to listen, and everyone signed. And we knew we’d met our goal.
We checked carefully that the names did not repeat. We counted the total amount of signatures twice, and maybe even a third time, and headed to Student Services to hand it in to Mr. Ross who appeared to be surprised, yet kind of proud of our effort. He explained he evaluation would take time and perhaps our petition wouldn’t be taken into consideration immediately, but there was hope.
A few days later we went to school for the last time, to get our yearbooks and final grades. It´s tradition to ask friends and teachers to sign your yearbook. I went and asked Mr. Ross to sign mine and he gave me the great news:
-Guess what! You did it! You guys did it! The Council has decided to keep the Fashion Illustration course! See? Each one of us can make a difference. Congratulations!
I loved to have him sign my book, but I just wanted to run outside and tell my Friends. When I hit the hall, they already knew. They’d been talking to the teacher in charge of the illustration class, who’d thanked them for what we’d done as she signed their books.
I treasure that yearbook. Not for the pictures of our last year in school nor as a souvenir, but because of the note Mr. Ross wrote when he signed it.
“Thanks for the memories. You can have an impact! Best wishes always.”
And I thank him for the lesson every time I face a “no, you can’t.” That’s when I think of that day and say to myself “Of course I can. And I will.”