With the 100th Anniversary looming, I decided to have a chat with two NT
grads that I know quite well: my sister Dianne Denton and her best friend Meg
O’Keefe. Dianne and Meg were the type of involved, academic students NT prides
itself on; they both held senior positions at Graffiti, founded TREE (an
environmental club precursor to NEAT), Meg resurrected the dormant girl’s rugby
team, and they both were veracious band students. So without further ado, this
is an abridged version of what they had to say about Graffiti, NT, and the role
of cookies in the early 21st century.
What was your involvement in Graffiti
during your time at the school?
M: During my graduating year I acted as a student
D: I was a writer in grade 9 and 10, a senior
editor in grade 11, and an editor-in-chief in grade 12.
Why did you feel there was a need for a
M: Honestly, I think the position emerged out
of a desire for the editors to surround themselves with friends and to have
D: There were specific skills we looked for
in editors – superior writing skills, excellent syntax and grammar, good
proofreading skills – along with generally good ideas for articles. Sometimes
the best editors didn’t have the most creative ideas, and the most creative
brains weren’t necessarily the best technical editors. (Plus, it is true; I
wanted Meg on the paper).
What was the initial role the Student
M: It all felt like a joke at the time.
Dianne and I were in cahoots and we made up the role. We really just brought me
on so that we could eat cookies.
D: I remember one of Meg’s first brainchildren
was the “Cookie War” idea…the Graffiti team tested five
cookies from food joints around NT and rated the best cookie.
Today Graffiti has four Student
Advisors. How do you feel about that?
M: Every organization, be it a corporation or
a school newspaper, has an intrinsic desire to grow. Graffiti was highly
successful and I am confident that it remains one of the best student
newspapers in the city, perhaps the country.
D: I think involving and consulting many
people makes for a rich and vibrant product, with the caveat that it is
imperative that every person bring something to the table.
How do you feel about your overall
contribution to Graffiti?
M: The 2003-2004 editorial board pushed the
envelope…Graffiti helped channel and direct our energy. We staged a fake
pregnancy and openly wrote about getting drunk, doing drugs, and evading the
D: I look back on the old days in the Graffiti
office, which was a dingy broom closet in the super hot basement of the old
school and it really does feel like the “good old days.” We won more
Toronto Star newspaper awards my year than the year before, and the paper would
go on to win more and more every year. I felt proud to play a role in a paper
with such a great legacy.
What do you feel the purpose of Graffiti
was back in 2003-2004?
M: Graffiti fostered communication among
students and between the student body and the administration. It gave us a
legitimate and coherent voice. It promoted activism and the exploration of new
ideas, while enabling students to build skills outside of the classroom.
D: Sitting back at the ripe old age of 25, I
think its main purpose was to provide a forum for students to push limits,
voice opinions, spread their passion for whatever they have learned about, and
ultimately call for social change. As a shy, dorky “Niner” prone to wearing
overalls and running shoes, writing my first article was an act of courage.
When you left NT and Graffiti, how did
you imagine NT in the future?
M: I was highly cautious and actively
critical about the new building project. It seems my fears have been proven
unfounded. North Toronto’s energy has certainly survived the move.
D: Meg and I
were quite involved in the discussions over the new school. There was some
opposition from alumni who were attached to the old building. The decision to
rebuild was eventually made, and so I always imagined a brighter, shinier NT.
But that’s just the building, and really, a school is about the people. I
didn’t really expect the essence of the student body to change.
How do you feel about NT today?
M: I do not envy high school students of
today. I cannot imagine trying to navigate the world of social media while
still craving out an identity and clashing with parents and authority. I made a
lot of mistakes, and I am thankful they were somewhat erasable.
D: I was lucky to
stop by the new school last year and I was happy to see that the students, although
much younger and taller than I remember being in high school, were as I
remembered NT students to be; curious, engaged, and vocal.
What would you wish for Graffiti in the
M: God help Graffiti if/when Mr. Zohar
leaves. He is the guardian of NT’s history. Though the students are essential
to the development of Graffiti, Mr. Zohar is indispensable to the students’
D: I second Meg’s comments about Mr. Zohar wholeheartedly. There are a
whole slew of adjectives I could use for Mr. Zohar (inspiring, insightful,
quirky), but I think it suffices to say that I have never had a better
teacher or mentor through four years of university, a year of grad school at
Harvard, and three years of working. The man rocks.
This is the 100th
Anniversary…any other historic notes?
M: Cookies were big back in the early
2000s. Cupcakes are too up scale for regular folk.
D: So important.
Cookies were vital to our high school experience.