By Sherina Harris
I met Yusra Javed on the day of our journalism frosh. I was so worried I wouldn’t make friends. At the end of the day, I saw four girls walking in the hallway of the Rogers Communications Centre. I recognized one of them from that morning’s pancake breakfast, so I approached the group. They were on their way to McDonald’s to get ice cream. I asked if I could come, and they said yes.
I met Yusra in that very doorway in the RCC lobby. We introduced ourselves, and I told her I recognized her from her Facebook profile picture. At the time, it was her in her blue high school graduation gown and cap, holding her orange cat, Fluffy.
Yusra and I often looked back at that moment and said it had to have been fate.
Yusra was a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson. She was a reporter for RogersTV Durham, Press Gallery coordinator at Queen’s Park, Editor-in-Chief of New Wave Magazine. She got her start at campus broadcast group RUtv News, and also worked in Ryerson’s Student Affairs department last school year. Everyone knew she was going to be a successful journalist. She passed away suddenly from a heart-related illness on September 14th.
Yus was in my politics class, POG 100—a class we would come to reference in every single conversation we had. After the first class, we sat on the beach floor of the SLC with other friends, and compared notes on the reading. We didn’t understand any of it. But we were there, two girls who cared about their GPAs so much, even in the first week of school. And that set the tone for our friendship.
Christmas that year, Yus selected me in our Secret Santa draw. She got me a poetry book that she remembered I looked at when we went to Indigo together. In her card, she said she thought of me as her sister. I couldn’t believe I had found the friend, the best friend, I had always wanted.
It’s hard for me to believe now that four months in, we already knew how special our friendship was.
Last semester, we didn’t have any classes together. So we had an arrangement: Every Tuesday night, Yusra slept over after her musical theatre class. She was too polite to outright tell me that my air mattress was uncomfortable, so she took to sleeping on the couch. While that sounds fine, my couch is a small loveseat with only one armrest. So she’d wheel over my office chair and use it for her feet. She unfolded my grey fuzzy blanket and never complained. She only ever asked, nicely, for a pillow.
This summer, when Yus was interning at the Press Gallery at Queen’s Park, we still found time to see each other. After a shift of hers, we went to get sushi more times than I can count—and no matter how full we were, we’d always get ice cream after. Our favourite place was Baskin Robbins: she’d get Jamoca Almond Fudge, every time without fail. I rotated through the chocolate flavours—except the one time she encouraged me to get not one but two scoops of orange sherbert, which promptly melted all over my new white shoes.
In College Park, we’d jump from bench to bench to avoid the sun. We watched kids play in the fountain and cooed at all the dogs we saw. We talked about everything: what Master’s programs we wanted to apply for, internships, families, friends and futures. Always about our futures.
We joked that the benches in the park replaced my couch, where we both cried over silly things far, far too many times.
In June, I went to Yus’s house for her family’s Eid parties. She helped me get ready and pressed a mint green bindi, my favourite colour, into my forehead. In between lunch and dinner, we sat outside on her patio furniture, joined by her mom, and did what we did best — talked, did some classic Sher and Yus overthinking, and talked some more.
That day is really special to me, because I got to meet her extended family and family friends. Anytime I hung out at Yus’s house, or even in her hospital room with her family, I felt at home. Her mom made sure there was a non-spicy food option for me — because, as much as Yus increased my spice tolerance, it’s still pretty low — and her entire family made me feel so loved and cared for.
I think back to the Christmas of first year, when Yus wrote in her card that she thought of me as her sister. And every day since then, she showed me that she meant it.
My favourite thing about Yus, something I always told her I admired, was how she could make anyone she was talking to feel like the most special person in the world. No matter what was going on in her own life, she wanted to hear about our joys, our worries, our stories.
I hope we can all resolve to do more of what Yus did so effortlessly: go out of our way to make other people feel welcome and important and valued.
I love the story of how relentlessly Yusra chased down an interview with Doug Ford as a volunteer at Rogers, before she interviewed him at Queen’s Park and—in his own words—”held his feet to the fire.” The more I think about it, the more I realize just how deeply embedded in her personality it was to be a “go-getter.”
As a Muslim woman of colour, Yus made a place for herself in the journalism industry. When she wanted to work at Rogers, she called and emailed repeatedly until she heard back. And it wasn’t until she had already started that her supervisors learned she wasn’t a fourth-year student there for an internship. She was relentless and tenacious, because she had to be.
You may know that Yus loved musicals. We bonded over our mutual love for Hamilton, so much so that she didn’t tell me she went to see it, and didn’t post anything about it on Snapchat, so she could surprise me with a t-shirt from the gift shop. In the last song in the musical, the chorus sings a question: “Who tells your story?”
I know, from conversations in person and online, that we all have so many great stories about Yusra.
And it is now up to all of us to tell her story. Not just in a journalistic sense, but in our lives. To tell the story of her kindness through our own. To tell the story of her determination and drive, through our own. To tell the story of her empathy, her intelligence, her curiosity, her passion.
Yusra was, and continues to be, a part of all of our stories. She will always be the best part of mine.
We love you, Yusra “Honourary Eye Editor” Javed pic.twitter.com/NUzXXT1eTp
— The Eyeopener (@theeyeopener) September 19, 2019