On being … a cheerleader

By Ingrid Sapona

I know Charlie (not his real name) through the local alumni club of my undergrad university. A couple years ago a handful of area alums got together in an effort to revive the moribund club. Charlie was one of the driving forces behind the resurrection.

He and his wife Sandra (not her real name) are both alums, as are two of their three daughters. I don’t think Charlie or Sandra are particularly major benefactors of the university but they certainly support it by proudly promoting it at every opportunity. Charlie and Sandra attend most local alumni events, usually sporting something that includes the school’s colours, and I get the sense they also make it back to the campus pretty regularly for various events.

Charlie is an equal opportunity supporter of the university, keeping us up-to-date on both academic and athletic goings on. But, since both he and one of his daughters are j-school grads, I think he feels a special affinity toward the j-school and its alums, so I get a few more e-mails from him than some other alumni do. For example, he often relates news about j-school faculty and alums, as well as stuff about the state of the news business in general.  

Before you get the wrong impression, let me clarify that it’s not like I get daily, or even weekly, e-mails from Charlie. It’s not a case where he’s got time on his hands and nothing better to do than troll for news about our alma mater. His e-mails are occasional and always welcome.

So, when I opened an e-mail from him earlier this week and I saw it was addressed to j-school alums, I was surprised when the first sentence was about a film that will be premiering next week at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF, as it’s known around here). While I wasn’t surprised that Charlie and Sandra might be planning on attending some of the 288 films on offer this year, I couldn’t imagine why he’d single out a specific film to mention to us.

Well, by now I’m sure you guessed it has a j-school connection. Turns out the film was co-written and co-produced by Lina (not her real name), a 2001 j-school grad. Cool, I thought – and very Charlie-like to have found that out. That tidbit is not in the TIFF description – apparently he recognized her name from one of the articles in the most recent alumni magazine, which I hadn’t even read yet!

Charlie went on to say that he planned on e-mailing Lina to “see what her plans are” while she’s in town for the world premiere of her movie and he intended to ask her if she’d like to come to our alumni club’s annual general meeting, which happens to be scheduled about the time he thought she’d be in town. I had to laugh at the thought. Yes, in the e-mail he noted that he realized Lina’s main objective while here would be to find a distributor for the film, I still couldn’t believe he thought he’d even be able to reach her.

No sooner did I finish reading that e-mail than a second one from Charlie came through. This one was labelled “follow-up”. To my amazement, he wrote that he received a response from Lina and that she suggested that Toronto j-school alums could come to the premier screening and be her guest at the film’s private after party. I couldn’t believe it.

A day or so later he e-mailed again with further details, asking us to confirm our attendance. He also mentioned that Lina “seems very excited about the chance to meet (j-school) alums in Toronto”, and he commented on how generous he thought the offer was. While I definitely agreed with what he said about the generosity of Lina’s invitation, I thought it might be a bit of a stretch to say she’s excited about meeting us. But, true or not, that positive representation of Lina’s response seemed pure Charlie.

I’m really looking forward to the film and I’ve told a couple friends about it. Every time I relay the story and think about how it unfolded, my respect and admiration for Charlie grows. The whole thing came about because of his genuine interest in all things related to our alma mater and his kindness toward fellow alums. His going out of his way to try to contact Lina seemed strange to me at first. But now I see it for what it was: a lovely gesture of recognition of her accomplishment of making it into TIFF. And his inviting her to our alumni club’s meeting was also very thoughtful, as he figured fellow alums might be interested in hearing about her work.

Charlie was at the university 20 years before me, so I don’t know whether he was ever on the university’s official cheerleading squad. But I tell you, I’ve never met a person who better embodies what a good cheerleader is all about: inspiring folks with their enthusiasm and energy. I feel very fortunate to be associated with a “team” Charlie cheers for. (I am sure there are other “teams” he’s also an enthusiastic supporter of.) And, though I know I need lots more practice, I truly hope that someday I’ll be at least half as genuine a cheerleader as Charlie – for our alma mater and for others too.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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