Drake and Norm Kelly looking cool.

PHOTO: TAGWA MOYO

So, is our school cool now?

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By Sean Wetselaar

Four years ago I was standing in front of Pitman Hall, in a white, tattered t-shirt, throwing water balloons at my floor mates.

It was my first year at Ryerson and I was as green a frosh as they come. I’d lived that classic trope — small town boy, moved to the big city to pursue his career — and I’d been looking forward to a frosh week like the kind you always see in movies, or hear about. Where everyone is excited and oozing school spirit.

There were not a lot of people on the lawn that day, and I’m sure to a casual passersby we looked like idiots. One jubilant afternoon of paint-throwing and ridiculous games in the quad was pretty much the pinnacle of my frosh experience. Besides the concert, which was sparsely attended, I can’t remember a single other event from the school’s official frosh week.

You get where this is going. You were at the concert on Sept. 11. Or your friend was. Or you saw the Instagram posts about it the morning after and told your friend who told you not to bother going that you weren’t friends anymore.

For four years I’ve covered this campus, and I’ve written, read or edited more stories than I can count about Ryerson’s quest for legitimacy. The dream where our campus is taken seriously as a real contender in the post-secondary sector. Where the distant past of Rye High seems like all but a faded memory. Maybe for the first time I can remember, it feels like we’re close.

Drake was on campus. And for a glorious weekend we were the envy of every school in the city, probably the province.

A few days before that, I was standing outside the SCC, talking to the venerable Liane McLarty — our general manager who has been with the paper for more than 15 years. While we chatted, a group of engineering frosh stormed down Gould Street screaming, in an effort to drown out another group of frosh, who were yelling back with equal enthusiasm.

When the pell-mell had swept on, I remarked to McLarty that I couldn’t remember ever seeing the first years quite so excited.

Neither could she.

We’ve written about — and we’ll continue to write about — the new buildings, the new programs, the new prestige that continue to push this school forward. Those are the things you’ll often see in our news section, that I (and others) will try to convince you are integral to our campus and its growth.

But there’s another aspect to Ryerson’s quest for “real university” status, and that is campus culture.

It’s hard to brute-force a campus made up largely of commuters, with limited space to hang out, into suddenly becoming part of the Ryerson community in a way they weren’t. You have to make those changes little by little, inch by inch.

And somehow, it seems like campus has done it, at least in part. Sure, it’s too soon to draw any major conclusions about involvement and school spirit and what Ryerson means to its students. But if you haven’t seen the trends, the shifts, you haven’t been paying attention.

You’ll be reading a lot in The Eyeopener this week about Drake’s surprise appearance, and what it cost — in terms of both money and other tasks which fell by the way-side. But there’s no denying that this year’s frosh was different.

This little corner of downtown has come a long way since I chucked those water balloons. And I don’t mind. It’s been a hell of a trip.

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