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The teacher thanks the pupil

- January 16th, 2013

We’ve all read the newspaper column by a former student praising the teacher who had a big impact on the columnist’s life.

Heck, I’ve written that column — more than once. That’s because there are a number of teachers who loomed large in my teen and young-adult years.

But this time, it’s the opposite case: The teacher would like to thank a pupil.

I’ve taught journalism part-time in Western University’s Faculty of Media and Information Studies since 2006. Before that, I was an instructor at Conestoga College and a teaching assistant at Ryerson University. In my grad-student days in Guelph, I taught introductory university English courses.

By this point, I’ve taught hundreds of young people. Without selling any of my former students short, there are definitely some who stand out.

Veronica Chail is one of them. And I don’t think she’ll mind me singling her out.

It’s quite possible you’ve heard her name. She is the host of the Bollywood Boulevard program on Toronto’s OMNI Television. I think I’m describing the show accurately when I say it’s the Entertainment Tonight of the Indian cinema scene.

In her young career she’s already covered events like the Indian International Film Academy Awards, as well as the Toronto International Film Festival.

She’s met A-listers such as Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Clive Owen through her work.

But I knew Veronica before all that, back when she was a student at Western.

She was in my class the first time I taught my Arts and Entertainment Journalism course in the Master’s program.

Young and driven, Veronica came to the topic from a different perspective than mine: She was an unapologetic pop-culture junkie; as her Twitter profile says, “Media is my language!”

I’m all for pop culture, but what I stress in my course are ways to cover film, music and television by means of idea-driven stories, not simply mindlessly pushing new product.

Veronica was more entertainment and I was more arts, if that makes any sense.

This led to 12 weeks of sparring over the proper definition of arts coverage. To her credit, she never backed down; I would push her, and from the back row of desks she was steadfast in sticking up for her tastes by making the case for intelligent celebrity coverage.

That’s how she earned a 100% participation mark, as well as my respect, despite the two of us rarely agreeing.

She won me over with her persistent exuberance and I like to think some of my approach to journalism rubbed off on her.

And I experienced a subtle, but important, change. Over the weeks, I gradually learned an iron rule of education: In any given semester, the one person in the classroom who learns the most is the teacher.

As the semester drew to a close, I handed the students their last assignments back. At the bottom of the final page of Veronica’s paper, I wrote “I expect to see you reporting from the red carpet one day.”

Little did I know.

Within a few short months, she caught on as a TV reporter, a writer, a host and then a producer on programs like The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos.

In a way, I recognized her career path because it mirrored my own: When I was younger, all I wanted to do was work as an opinionmonger, so when I got my first editorial-writing gig at 28 years old, I was unprepared because it happened so quickly.

Veronica has both talent and determination. She made her dream come true — and swiftly — and I’m so proud of her. She’s taking the country’s media capital by storm.

We have kept in touch, and she’s come back to London to speak to my current class about her experiences. Now her dream is to host a syndicated national talk show; the last time we exchanged Facebook messages, she spoke about setting her sights on an Academy Award.

If anyone can do it, she can.

Jokingly, she said she’d thank me if she wins an Oscar. It’s flattering, but she knows what I would say: Do the right thing and thank your mother.

Being a university instructor may be the closest I ever come to anything like having children of my own. If you’re a parent, I don’t have to describe to you the feeling of seeing a part of your personality, your self, living on in another person. It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.

And for that, Veronica, I thank you.

Categories: News

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