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Get Ready For School With Staples & Win!

Can you believe it’s been 4 years since I graduated from the MIT program at Western? Even though I’m not stepping into a classroom after Labour Day, there’s still something exciting about the back to school season. It symbolizes a fresh start and new beginnings, not to mention that it’s a good excuse to go shopping!

Fall is also a very busy time of year. “Canadians are among the most time-squeezed people on the planet,” says Mary Sagat, president of Staples Canada.

With that in mind, I’ve narrowed it down to my top suggestions for your back to school shopping list. This is based on current trends, technology and my own experiences as a student, employee and blogger. And the best part is that you can win a huge prize pack from Staples Canada – more details below.

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Behind The Band: Familiar Strangers

After studying at different Canadian universities, Ryan Peters, Josh Gladstone and Daniel Draper are reuniting to perform old favourites at an acoustic show. To call Sunday night a reunion would be an understatement because some of their high school friends haven’t seen each other in over four years. The low-key concert (promoted through a Facebook event) will offer a chance for Familiar Strangers’ fans to reconnect over drinks at an uptown bar in Toronto.

In honour of #FlashbackFriday, here are some exclusive insights about Familiar Strangers’ music and the band’s aspirations. Consider this a commercial-free digital spin-off of E! True Hollywood Story and enjoy.

Ryan (piano and vocals) plans to become a teacher, so he’s studying education at U of T and Daniel (guitar) is travelling for eight months before moving to Calgary for a consulting job. Meanwhile, Josh (guitar, cello, recorder and oboe) is a Project Specialist in Bell’s rotational program for new graduates.

Ryan Peters (2011)

Ryan Peters (2011)

Daniel Draper (2011)

Daniel Draper (2011)

Daniel Draper & Josh Gladstone (2006)

Daniel Draper & Josh Gladstone (2006)

Growing up, they enjoyed playing music at summer camp. “We wrote a couple Familiar Strangers songs by the campfire,” explains Josh. Likewise, Daniel’s counsellors influenced his taste in music and they introduced him to some of the tracks he plays on repeat today.

In high school, they liked listening to Billy Joel, Dave Matthews Band and John Mayer. Back in the day, Daniel sent Ryan music via MSN Messenger, but now that’s merely something they’re nostalgic about. Ryan mainly listens to Top 40 and show tunes, “as nerdy as that makes me.” Josh discovers new music through  streaming apps like 8tracks, as well as satellite radio. If you subscribe to SiriusXM, Josh recommends listening to The Pulse and The Blend. He’s also a huge fan of Mumford and Sons. “Opening for Mumford and Sons in front of a big crowd at the Molson Amphitheatre is the dream.”

If their dreams come true, then Familiar Strangers’ music will be featured on primetime TV. Ryan believes their “music would take any HBO show to the next level.” If a Game of Thrones producer includes their music in an upcoming episode, “it would be the greatest thing ever,” adds Josh.
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Margaret Trudeau Educates Western

When Margaret Trudeau visited Western today, she was introduced through a video narrated by George Stroumboulopoulos, an equally well-liked Canadian cultural icon. Margaret, a mental health advocate, was invited to Western for the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Distinguished Lecture series to talk about her experiences with bipolar disorder, which she discusses in her book Changing My Mind (2010).

Margaret began by saying that she acted like a “drama queen” as a child, who was “quick to cry, quick to laugh.” She first experienced minor bouts of depression when she moved out of her parents’ home during university, noting that she missed the balance once she began living on her own in a basement apartment.

Albeit briefly, Margaret mentioned that the pressure of being a public figure didn’t help her feel better because as the Prime Minister’s wife, she was always expected to be graceful and look good. “There’s nothing more humiliating than being locked up in a psych ward, especially when people who don’t even know you look up to you,” she said. Her position as Canada’s First Lady also contributed to her mood swings, as sometimes her social calendar was filled with fancy events, whereas other times she felt more isolated in Ottawa.

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Back to School Inspiration

When a teacher encourages students to pursue their passion, their influence deserves to be recognized and shared. The Our Kids Private School Expo blog hop provides a great opportunity to express why my media studies teacher, Alice Trachimovsky’s classes are among my best high school memories.

Once I saw how Mrs. T handled a group of immature boys while substituting for one of my grade ten classes, I knew she was a woman from whom I wanted to learn. The following year in grade eleven, her exciting creative assignments ranged from a shopping mall analysis to a full-fledged public service announcement campaign, for which I learned how to create a teaser. Leading enjoyable discussions is one of her specialties, especially when it comes to Lady Gaga and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty. Her observational humour always piqued my friends’ interest in how the media industry operates, making it unsurprising that many of my high school classmates study MIT at Western now.

Smaller classes make it easier to form meaningful bonds that promote keeping in touch post-graduation. Three years later, Mrs. T and I still meet for coffee every summer to catch up (most recently at Aroma).

Mrs. T always supported my ambitions to ensure Hot On The Street lived on after its print editions and I’ll never forget when she challenged us to summarize an article in 140 characters.

A magical formula doesn’t move private school students from school A to first choice university B, and then onto dream job C – teachers play a fundamental role in helping students get there.

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Material Girl

Prior to the Queen of Pop’s Super Bowl halftime show, I noticed she received lots of criticism, yet couldn’t fathom why. I’ve been a Madonna fan for as long as I can remember. Some of my early childhood memories include watching documentaries about how her career escalated before I was born and lip syncing singing along to her duet song, “Me Against the Music” with Britney Spears over the phone with a close friend. A few years ago, I even painted a ceramic plate with an iPod in the center and the tagline, “Get into the Groove.”

At 53, not only does she hold records for her chart-topping tracks, but she also looks incredible and shows no signs of slowing down. After dazzling us at the Air Canada Centre on her Sticky and Sweet Tour, where I regrettably didn’t buy an “Express Yourself” concert tee, it was difficult to see the superstar in a negative light.

Since “Give Me All Your Luvin’”, the first single from her 12th album, MDNA, debuted, reasons to dislike Madonna started becoming more apparent, but I find it hard to turn my back on one of my favourite performers.

Today Madonna made news because Malawi’s government officials are fed up with her donations that they feel are motivated too much by corporate interests in her global brand image than concern for children. When I first read the Toronto Star’s article, I mistook “state of the art girls school” and thought she’d arranged to build an arts school for girls because that sure would be thoughtful of her!

To be “fed up” with Madonna for wanting to improve Malawi’s education system is like being fed up with Angelina Jolie’s mass adoption spree or even Oprah’s generosity overseas for that matter. All of the above women have significant personal brands to protect, but along with their high status careers comes gigantic salaries and I hardly think we should criticize Madonna’s generosity to this extent. I hardly recall criticism from urban planners when Madge opened her first fitness centers in North America, so why so much outrage when she tries to do good in the world?

The blatantly excessive product placement in the Give Me All Your Luvin’” music video was far from impressive, but it’s sure a catchy tune. That said, I confidently predict that it will not rank high on media professors’ list of video clips to show in future celebrity classes, the way that “Material Girl” was shown and then discussed at length last Friday at Western. They might as well just show separate commercials for Smirnoff, Adidas and whatever other brands were featured because aside from the ladies resembling Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, the brands were the standout visuals in the video, and I certainly don’t mean that in a good way.

Madonna’s professional contributions to music, not to mention my iTunes library, combined with her ongoing philanthropic projects make her an icon to watch. I’m curious about what critics will say once MDNA’s full length tracks are released, but until then, let’s remember the positive memories Madonna offers fans and focus on that.