The Original Beaver

By Zak Vescera

I first met Olivier Ruchet in a cramped, ugly  room at UBC. Over the course of an hour-long interview, I felt like I had come face to face with a French intellectual terminator. After an interview in which I briefly forgot what the Baltic States were, failed to give an example of an African proxy war, and was in a general state of roue libre, I left that room with no hope of ever coming to Sciences Po.

Imagine my surprise, three months later, when a letter came in the mail. I had been accepted to Sciences Po, thanks to the Terminator.

As it turns out, Professor Ruchet is not a robot, but deeply and profoundly human. When he wasn’t recruiting students around the globe for the program, his door was always open. He was the ace up your sleeve, the net below Sciences Po’s tightrope. We’ve probably interrupted so many of his lunch hours that it probably violates French labour law. The door to A105 was always open to a student in need.

One day, that was me. I went to Olivier Ruchet with the intention of dropping out of the Dual Degree Program between Sciences Po and the University of British Columbia. I was stressed and confused, and Ruchet was there to lay down the facts. I don’t think our meeting lasted more than 20 minutes, but his sympathy and guidance is, for the second time, the reason I’m here today.

I’m not sharing that story because I think It’s unique.  On the other hand, I think a surprising number of people will tell you a similar story. Ruchet was a director and advisor while still always being a teacher and friend. And despite always meaning serious business, the man is not afraid to wear sneakers with his suits.

The last few weeks haven’t been easy for Beavers, here and abroad. Professor Ruchet’s termination was as gracefully executed as a brick chucked through a window, and it did just as much damage. It divided us into fragments and shards. Suddenly, a community founded upon respectful discourse and disagreement became a bordel of aggressive fighting on both sides.  In the haze of Nervous Breakdown November, we forgot what it means to be a Sciences Piste— about the mutual respect this community is supposed to have for each other.  Apathy, anger, aggression, and frustration formed a cocktail that not even an Ultraviolet would drink.

But ultimately, the vast majority of us were more sad than anything. Sad that someone who was seen as a symbol of the program and the values it strove to embody was now leaving against his will. Professor Ruchet has been a fixture of this program since its inception. He’s done too much and been featured in way too many memes to be so easily replaced, and that hit us hard. What we needed, more than ever, was a reminder of what it was to be a Beaver.

And once again, A105 was open.

Professor Ruchet’s speech today was brief. It was just a touch awkward, as 100 students huddled around him in a small patch of sunlight in a cold, wintery courtyard.  But it was exactly what many of us needed to hear.

In the middle of an exam season, we were told that yes, it’s okay to fail Micro. We were assured that our value as individuals could not be boiled down to a grade.

Right after the tragic passing of a student who was in the Columbia Dual Degree’s fourth year, we were reminded to respect and appreciate her memory, and respect and care for our peers.

That every student on this campus was chosen for a reason, and that ultimately, we all had “it” in us– whatever we wanted that to be.

And so, for the second time for me and goodness knows how many for you, we were given a reminder of why we’re here.

My peer Alissa Kruidenier wrote a scorcher of an article a few weeks back where she said that, given the apathy of many students, we didn’t deserve to bear the mantle of the Fox and the Lion. Many, myself included, would agree. But if we can’t reach those ideals, at least we can be Beavers; industrious, persevering, really good at building dams, and united as a community in respect and integrity.

Even if students are not motivated to protest, divided over petitions, and conflicted on the value of action, at least we can remember to act on our values. If Professor Ruchet will not return to this campus, his respect, hard work, and compassion for our peers will remain.

So with that, let’s raise one to the Original Beaver.

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