By Hamida Ghafour
It’s a fairly select club that lists amongst its members a cop-bashing journalist, a fashion designer whose clothes are worn by the rich and famous and the two guys who designed the original Club Monaco store.
Although it could be AmEx, in reality it’s the Ryerson Alumni Club.
Well, three out of four are members, almost graduating does not count.
In Ryerson’s 50 years, more than 80.000 people have graduated from our Polytechnic University. And you might be surprised to hear who some of those people are.
Rosie DiManno, 39, a columnist for the Toronto Star who dropped out of the journalism program in 1976. The program landed her a dream job — being a sports reporter at the Star.
“I was a lousy student and I didn’t go to class,” said DiManno contending that the problem with the program was the instructors.
“I would have been helpful to me to have younger instructors. They were all burn-out reporters who didn’t care and it wasn’t inspiring for a young journalist,” she says.
DiManno managed to land a summer internship at the Star going into her third year of print reporting. She did such a great job they offered her a permanent position as a sports reporter whether she graduated or not. She took it a few months later, at age 17, but was fired soon after because the sport editor said she was too immature.
The day she was fired, she tried to commit suicide. After popping back a bottle of Valium, she crossed the street at Queen’s Quay near the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, hoping a car would hit her. Instead, she was rushed to the hospital and had her stomach pumped.
She landed a job at the Globe and Mail at age 23 but was fired again for hitchhiking back from an assignment. Despite getting fired at the two major papers in Canada, she managed to get her job back at The Star in 1983 and has been there ever since.
Not everyone’s memories of Ryerson are like DiManno.
Lida Baday, a major Canadian fashion designer, says Ryerson gave her a chance to develop her creativity.
“There was great spirit among students and instructors … and a lot of room to develop and grow. It was a major part of my life,” said Baday, who graduated from the school of fashion in 1979.
She grew up in Hamilton and says she didn’t socialize much during those years; she was focused on becoming a successful designer.
Baday finally established her label, Lida Baday, in 1987 with a small collection and said she immediately had a small following of buyers.
Since winning the prestigious Vidal Sassoon International Buyer’s Designer of the Year Award two years ago, her clientele has grown to include Saks Fifth Avenue, Holt Renfrew and Fashion Television’s Jeanne Beker.
She even designed the red suit Sigourney Weaver wore in last year’s movie Copycat.
Her former instructor Peter Duck remembers Baday as a good student who was also resourceful.
“You felt if there’s anyone who might make it she might. She was smart enough to get out and make connections,” said Duck.
Knowing what kind of career they want is what sets Ryerson students apart from those who go to other universities, said David Butler, manager of alumni affairs at Ryerson.
So it’s unfair to say that Ryerson isn’t a “real” university and dismiss it as “Rye High.”
“People who didn’t fit in a university and came here were regarded as second class citizens. The U of T students felt Ryerson students couldn’t cut it,” said Butler, who graduated from business program in 1972. By the way, it was U of T that gave us that label anyway.
“We should be proud,” said Butler. “Ryerson grads are adored by employers and our list of noted alumni proves it.”
Ryerson also boasts the internationally renowned interior designers George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, of Yabu Pushelberg as alumni.
Yabu and Pushelberg, who now own an important interior design firm in Toronto both graduated from the interior design program in 1976.
“It was not about learning but enjoying myself. Ryerson was warm, fuzzy and positive experience,” said Pushelberg.
The two friends literally ran into each other on the street in 1979 and a year a later, decided to share a studio apartment. They gave each other input on their projects until they finally decided to open their own company that same year, said Pushelberg, 44.
Their break came in 1985 when they landed a contract with a then little known Canadian company called Club Monaco.
Since then, they have designed for Le Chateau, Holt Renfrew in Yorkdale Shopping Centre and some of the departments for Bergdorf Goodman on new York’s foofy Fifth Avenue.
They have also designed various shopping malls in Taiwan and Japan.
Their former instructor, Andrew Vasilevich, who still teaches at Ryerson remembers Pushelberg as loud and always at the centre of attention while Yabu was reserved and was known to come to school, do his work and go home.
There are other famous grads, or drop-outs. Tyler Burle, the latest darling of the magazine world, is editor of the London-based Wallpaper* a decorating magazine everyone is trying to copy.
He dropped out of the journalism program a few years ago because it wasn’t challenging enough for him, he told Shift.
Sonja Smits, who plays Sally on the hit drama Traders, dropped out of theatre arts in 1975. Wendy Mesley of CBC, dropped out in 1979 but paid $50 to Ryerson in 1990 and got her diploma anyways.
The man who founded the Four Seasons Hotel, Isadore Sharpe, graduated from the business program in 1952.