By Maya Cheikh
Back when Michael Cohen attended Dawson, not going on campus was a rebellious act only the cool kids dared to pull off. Now — cool or not — shoddy screens, signals, and microphones compose the whole of the celebrated “Dawson experience.” Reduced to robotic monotony, Cohen’s memories might be the breath of fresh air we’ve been searching for.
The most effort Mike — as he’s now known — ever made towards academia was in hopes of avoiding it. Plagiarism and a whole lot of absences were how he navigated Dawson. Luckily, administration in the 1980s was far more lenient when it came to cutting class. Mike and his friends, who were all studying social science together, were well aware of that. It’s safe to say that Mike, Mitchell, Steve, Stacy, Randy, and Teddy were educated in class evasion.
A crucial aspect of maximizing free time had to do with timing. “Our scheduling was amazing, we did it as a group,” Mike explains. Schedule day at Dawson was the most overwhelming event of the semester. “It’s not like you do it now,” he says. “The fun part about it [was that] we literally had to go stand in line to sign up for the courses. It was first-come-first-served.” “Just imagine rushing to campus,” Mike prompts, “and seeing thousands of people bombarding the place,” all while trying to swim through the clammy, overexcited, and nervous bodies standing in the way of getting the class you reaaallyyy want. “It looked like the entrance of a concert” — standing in line in the brightly lit halls, feeling other people breathe onto you, as you’re trying to speak to your friend over the cacophony filling the air. You look at every table laid out, hoping there’s enough slots left for you and your friends. Sensory overload, to say the least.
“Each semester was a bit different,” he remembers, “we crammed our days to get long weekends. A lot of times we had Fridays and Mondays off.” The crew had a weekend tradition: partying up North. When they made sure to get four-day weekends, their friend’s cottage near Sainte-Agathe was the destination of choice. “There was a pool there,” he says with a sly smirk as a deluge of coming-of-age flashbacks flood his thoughts, adding “at night the couples would go skinny dipping, others would go party, smoke… I mean, you can imagine teenagers in those whereabouts.” Yes, Mike, we most definitely can.
His parents weren’t very involved in his academic life, which is most likely why he was able to pull off that much class-cutting. Having immigrated from Israel, they weren’t familiar with the Quebec school system, trusting Mike with his studies. “I didn’t really know what he was doing,” his mom says, as she dusts flour off her hands in the dimly lit kitchen.
Funnily enough, Mike avoided going to Dawson so much that he would go to the Vanier campus instead. “I had a lot of friends at Vanier that I used to go visit over there,” he goes on, “Dawson was known as the artsy group and Vanier was more, say, the smarter kids. There was a joke at the time where you went to Dawson, we called it ‘the college of knowledge’ sarcastically.” It’s clear that the reputation didn’t stick for long, as getting accepted into Dawson is now regarded as a big achievement. Being academically acclaimed, students represent it with pride.
Mike’s son, Noah, attended up until last semester. Making up for his smaller stature with an ego as abundant as his facial hair, his presence is always felt. He gives a good sense of what walking through the halls feels like, these days. “Bad lighting and blue paint. It’s kind of a big weird maze with escalators. There’s rules too,” he goes on, “you only use the escalators to go up and the stairs to go down, and you always stay on the left side. I hated it when I was trying to go up the escalators and someone was blocking the way.” He was a bit more efficient than his father, especially when it came to what he did in his free time. He would much rather use his hours by working out at the “Econofitness gym in Alexis-Nihon” whereas Mike would go to socialize at Vanier “depending on how much free time [they had].”
Mike concluded that from his own experiences he learned “independence. Nobody's there to chase you. You want to make something of your life? Go ahead. You don't? Enjoy.”