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A love song for the U of O

Jesse Colautti | Fulcrum Staff
Photo Illustration by Mathias MacPhee

THREE YEARS AGO, when I first arrived at the University of Ottawa, I knew something was missing. All I would ever see on Facebook was friends from high school now at other universities surrounded by hundreds of people in face paint, decked out in school colours, and having what seemed to be a great time at their homecoming football game. Coming home for reading week, I was assaulted with spirit cheers my friends had picked up during frosh week and various jeers they learned to spew at Gee-Gees. All I had for a comeback was the etymology of the word “Gee-Gee.”

I went through the first few months of university without ever learning a cheer, putting on any garnet and grey, or knowing what homecoming was (did we have one?). What shocked me was that I wasn’t alone. It seemed like almost everyone around me was as unenthusiastic about waking up at 10 a.m. to pre-drink for a football game as I was, or just as hesitant to simplify their wardrobe to two colours.

For a long while, this bummed me out. I would lament to others what a bad job our school did at promoting school spirit and how little unity there was on campus. I wanted U of O to break through my better judgment and inspire a passion within me that no “Hung like a Gee-Gee” T-shirt ever could. But it just didn’t happen, and I spent the majority of my first two years at the university making fun of my own school and our “lame” efforts to create a community.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Something changed the way I understand community. Perhaps it dawned on me after a sociology class, or after taking a Canadian literature course and reading dozens of authors attempting to create a coherent national identity, but I’m much happier and proud to be a Gee-Gee than I was three years ago.

What makes us great, what makes this university a place I’m proud to attend now, is that we don’t all cheer and wear garnet and grey. At this school, we are different; we develop identities, friendships, and community based on factors other than the plain and simple fact that we all go to school at the same place. We’re not just some mass of purple or gold and we don’t internalize the strengths or weaknesses of our football program as our own. Even when we make the occasional Carleton joke, I’d like to think we make it with a grain of salt, taking our rivalry with Ottawa’s other university for what it is—an arbitrary divide.

Attempting to find ways we are all the same is inherently flawed and dangerous. Our university community is home to over 40,000 people, coming from all different walks of life and parts of the world. The truth is that we have many differences, but that is something we ought to be proud of and celebrate. Creating an “us” can only happen in the context of a “them,” and I fear for those people at other schools who don’t want to go to a pep rally, and who don’t see themselves as part of the crowd because they feel like they don’t belong.

In my three years at the U of O, I’ve been given the opportunity to try anything I could think of. I’ve switched majors three times, visited more wine and cheese events than I can remember, tried out the swing dance club, book club, outdoors club, been a young Liberal, a young Green, and played almost every intramural sport offered and never once was greeted with anything but open arms. Even when I wanted to write for the Fulcrum, it was as easy as showing up at a staff meeting and asking someone.

Belonging comes easy here; no matter who you are, or how different you think you are, I guarantee there’s space for you.

Next time you’re on campus I dare you to look around and see how different we all are. I hope you feel the same pride I do, the same pride that has nothing to do with the first horse out of a starting block, or the Jockey Club, or homecoming. Hopefully, you’ll find some wisdom in our university’s billboards—it really does all start here.