Titles: Impossible and Important

This post was written for VIU’s 5X5X25 Challenge.

VIU’s Registration Centre produces a brochure every semester that outlines various deadlines and guidelines pertinent to students attending classes.  This brochure goes through several drafts and revisions by members of the Registration Centre before it is sent to Marketing, Advertising and Design  to be produced and printed.  Normally, I am not a part of the creation of this brochure but due to staffing issues at the time of production, I was asked to take part in the meetings, make the necessary changes to the drafts, and bring them back for further review.  One change that is made with every new publication is the title of the brochure.

Now, as any writer knows, it can be incredibly difficult to come up with a title that is both clever and informative.  Titles should be succinct but provide enough information about the subject at hand.  Titles should be eye-catching and look interesting enough for someone to pick up the book, essay, brochure, and say, “Gee, I really want to read this.”  For a writer or editor, this can create a lot of pressure.

As it turned out, after several drafts, no one had been able to come up with a good title for this brochure.  Previous incarnations of the brochure were called “A Helpful Brochure,” “This is Actually Pretty Useful,” and, my personal favourite, “This Will Be On The Test,” featuring a chalkboard-green cover with yellow lettering that looked like chalk lines.  These were titles that were proving to be hard to beat.  Suggestions from other members of the team ranged from uninspired to frightening, none of them appropriate or interesting enough for this certain audience.

In an attempt to just hurry the process along, I entered the following suggestions into the header, playing on the popularity of hashtag statements in social media: “#readthisbrochure” and “#viurocks” I highlighted the titles several times and make several notes to the team that these hashtags were just a placeholder until we came up with something else to print.  I had every faith in my coworkers that we would, indeed, come up with something else to print.

As luck would have it, I was soon removed from the remainder of the revision process as I had other responsibilities that required my attention.  The semester carried on and I was vaguely aware that at some point the publication had been completed and been printed.  As usual, we had hundreds and hundreds of these brochures printed for distribution.

It wasn’t until weeks later that there came a situation in which I needed to refer to the new brochure.  I hunted one down in the Registration Centre and stopped short at the sight of the title in heavy bold font on the shiny paper.

#readthisbrochure #viurocks

“This was supposed to be replaced with the real title,” I lamented good-naturedly to anyone who would listen.   “I put this in as a joke!”

From that time, I made sure to follow any project I was involved in right through to the very end #youknow #justincase


Dear Graduates: Skills are Skills are Skills

On January 30 and 31, 2014, VIU celebrated the graduation of nearly 500 degree, diploma, and certificate students.  Two convocation ceremonies were held at the Port Theatre, with all the time-honored traditions and more recent additions, passion and enthusiasm that have become synonymous with VIU.  We honored retired VIU employees with carrying the mace, a centuries-old tradition in which heavy, metal weaponry is paraded in symbolic protection of the scholars in attendance.  We cheered at students as they smiled, waved, dancing, back-flipped, and took selfies during one of the most important days of their lives.

I watched the ceremonies as I always do: tucked away in the stage-left wings, just behind the podium where the Master of Ceremonies presides over the event. Hundreds of students walk past me on the stage, their newly-minted credentials in their hands, the tassels swinging from their mortarboards.  It’s the best part of my day. These ceremonies are the best part of my job.

I always want to pull these new graduates aside, whisper my most heartfelt congratulations, ask them what they learned and how they’re going to apply it to their lives.  Sometimes I do get a chance to talk to the students before the ceremony as we’re getting ready.  They’re working already, or looking for work; some are going back to school, or some are just looking forward to not being at school.  Some students have their lives all planned out; some are just going to roll with it.

I was one of those, a student who rolled with it.  When I received my newly-minted Bachelor of Arts degree from Malaspina University-College in 2005, I had just started what would be a two-year stint in retail.  I didn’t plan to work in customer service; I was supposed to take my major in English, wave it in front of publishing companies and bookstores and wait for the job offers to fly in.  Well – it didn’t exactly work like that.  I worked at a clothing store until I had simply had enough, and then the universe gave me a heck of break and here I am, back at Malaspina University-College, organizing the ceremonies for our graduating students.  As it turns out, it’s awfully close to my dream job.

For all of those graduating students who have aspirations of getting the management-level jobs, the high-impact jobs, the dream jobs, I say go for it, and good for you. But don’t discount the value of the education that you’re going to get working at the mall.  Customer service means everything these days, if you’re selling something or not.  The skills that I learned in retail – work ethic, teamwork, honesty, organization, even getting to my shift on time – can be applied to any job or career. I have done just that and continue to build on these skills during my time here at VIU.  At the end of what I hope will be a long career at VIU, I would like to be able to look back and say that I had continued to learn and apply new skills to an ever-changing world, that, for some people, I had made a difference, even for one day, and that I was able to pass along my own advice and skills to others.  And I would also like to be deemed worthy to carry the mace at convocation that year.