Diana and Matthew in London, U.K. a day or two after their engagement. (Ruben Afonso)

 

By Daniela Olariu (RSJ ’17)

For a Valentine’s Day special, we reached out to RSJ graduates who went from classmates to soulmates. The following couples met, married, partnered or fell in love while at the Ryerson School of Journalism and are still together today.

Here are their love stories:

 

Diana Duong and Matthew O’Mara (RSJ ‘13)

 

Tell us how you met.

We met in our first year at orientation! The day after, we were paired up in a scavenger hunt and we became really close friends.

How did being journalism students influence your relationship?

Matt: I was a pretty quiet prior to joining the program and journalists are a pretty social group, so that was a little intimidating at first. Diana really helped me navigate that space and she made me a better journalist cause if you can’t talk to people then you might not have much of a career.

Diana: I think being in the same program and having similar classes almost fast-tracked our relationship. We didn’t date until a year later but in that first year, we became close friends quite quickly because we were often in close proximity to each other and had a group of close mutual friends.

Did you ever compete or help each other with articles, projects or school work?

Matt: We worked on a documentary in our final year in the program. I really respect Diana’s work as producer and camera on that project. The topic was really challenging and I remember Diana thinking of some really creative ways of finding subjects. I also remember her using some lighting techniques she picked up while at CBC from a camera person to give our subjects the anonymity they needed to tell their story. Shout outs to Natalie, Ale, and Hannah who were also on the team.

Diana: We never competed directly but we’ve always been able to help and push each other. We’ve copy-edited and proofread each other’s work a lot and on several occasions, when I’m running up against several deadlines, Matthew has transcribed some of my interviews for me, which is truly the biggest gift anyone could give.

Can you share any memories during your time as a couple in j-school?

Matt: I remember the night I decided to ask Diana out. I can’t remember if I planned this, but we went to see the World Press Photo Gallery at Brookfield Place. We spent an hour looking at all these amazing photographs from around the world and then we went outside. Diana thought I looked a bit green due to the graphic images in the gallery, but it was mostly nerves. Then I asked her out and we held hands for the first time since we met.

Diana: On the night Matthew asked me out, I was in Mark Bulgutch’s TV Journalism class. We normally hang out when my class is done (4 p.m.) but that evening, the video my friend and I made took forever to render. I think we didn’t finish until nearly 8 p.m. and the whole time I felt so guilty that Matthew was waiting around. I kept telling him to go home but I’m so glad he waited because that was the perfect evening. After class, we stumbled upon the World Press Photo Gallery, which was incredible on its own but even more meaningful now that I associate it with where our relationship started.

How did your relationship have any impact on your career after j-school?

Matt: Being able to talk to someone about the struggles that came after journalism school ended was everything to me. My first job after school was at an extremely small newspaper and it was a really challenging at times. Diana was there to help me through everything and this reinforces how much I need to be there for her as well. Journalism’s woes don’t seem as bad if you’re with someone who really understands what it’s like.

Diana: We both understand how tough this industry is and it’s meant the world to have someone who can truly empathize and support me through everything—from the job hunt to the everyday stresses. We can face issues together without having to explain ourselves because we both get it.

Your favourite thing about your partner or relationship?

Matt: Diana makes me smile whenever I think about her and seeing her after a long day of work is the best thing in the world.

Diana: Matthew is probably the most patient and understanding person in my life and I feel so blessed when I think about how he has always stood by me, no matter what. With him, I feel like we can take on anything.

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Matt: I would say that the most important thing is to be understanding that journalism comes with strenuous obligations. Your boyfriend or girlfriend might have to take a job somewhere far away, but that might be the career move that they need to succeed. You have to do whatever it takes to make sure they’re successful in their role.

Diana: Just like a good interview, always be sure to listen to the other person. Communication truly is everything.

 

Ken, Vilia and their GoldenDoodle named Goldie at their lakefront home in Nipissing, Ontario. (Ken Cox)

Ken Cox and Vilia Cox (Née Vilia Rideout) (RSJ ‘70) grads

 

Tell us how you met.

In September, 1967 we were in first year journalism class at RPI. We were in Radio and Television Arts but first year was common to Journalism back then.

Our instructor was Ted Schrader, an old-time newspaperman with great stories and insights. You could imagine him rushing out of the newsroom with a junior photographer, the white “Press” pass stuck in his hat band.

For our first assignment, Schrader had us pick the name of a classmate from his fedora. We were to interview the classmate and write a story. I picked Vilia’s name and wrote a story about her.

Afterwards, I asked her to a Ryerson dance. We dated throughout our Ryerson years, got engaged, and married after graduation in 1970.

1970 Ryerson graduation photos. (Ken Cox)

How did being journalism students influence your relationship?

Although Vilia had a career in radio advertising and was the office manager/copy editor for a few years at a community newspaper in Quebec City, I was the one focused on broadcast journalism as a calling (CFGM, CFRB, CKO, and CJAD). Fortunately, we experienced at a formative age the deadline pressures, overtime, and unpredictable schedules of the profession.

As many times as I was called out to cover breaking news in the middle of the night, abandoned her at a restaurant (and once left Christmas dinner), she never complained. She knew from our Ryerson days that that’s what journalists do and that reporting was my passion. I love her for that. She always supported me – and us.

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Make a “non recrimination” pact like we did! Acknowledge that you’re both getting into long, crazy hours with stress, absences, and probably low (or no) pay for demanding work. Vilia supported me for months early in our marriage as I worked for free to break into the news business.

If you’re going to make a life together, one of you may well have to sacrifice days, nights, money, and even a career opportunity. Accepting the downsides of an early career in journalism takes an act of love.

Don’t be married to the job but recognize that the news business is exciting, fun, and addictive. It will try to be a third party in your relationship.

If we made it work, you can too. We’ll celebrate our 49th wedding anniversary this July.

 

(Courtesy: Tamara Sestanj)

 

Tamara Sestanj and Steve Tzemis (RSJ ‘15 grads)

 

Tell us how you met.

Steve: Twitter! I had met Tamara before, but didn’t actually know her. My first real interaction with her was asking out this cute girl from my program on Twitter in January of 2nd year. The rest is history

Tamara: The journalism program is super small, so we kind of knew of each other throughout the years. We followed each other on Twitter, because back then – I don’t know if it’s still the same – that was the big thing in j-school. I always thought he was cute but didn’t really talk to him. We bumped into each other here and there.

I had recently ended a pretty lengthy on-again off-again relationship and tweeted (because back then you tweeted your every thought!) that guys in j-school had it easy since they had so many options due to the guy vs. girl ratio. He responded to that in a PUBLIC tweet thinking I was in a relationship (which is so unlike him), asking me out and we’ve talked to each other every day since then.

How did being journalism students influence your relationship?

Steve: I don’t think being journalism students specifically influenced our relationship in any major way. We both veered in different directions when it came to which type of journalism we wanted to pursue, and that got even large once we graduated. I’m still in journalism, Tamara’s not.

Tamara: Our critical thinking is very similar. We’re able to look at news articles, listen to people’s stories, etc. and either have very similar follow-up questions or poke holes in the story. We both don’t just take what’s said to us at face-value. We’re also very good at looking at every angle of things, questioning why people think or act the way we do and playing devil’s advocate in scenarios. We debate a lot – whether it’s about something in the news or who’s turn it is to wake up with the new puppy (but in a healthy, not arguing way). We try our best to stay up-to-date in the news, and usually fill each other in on the big stuff. I usually get my news watching the morning news, while he updates me on anything he sees on Twitter.

Did you ever compete or help each other with articles, projects or school work?

Steve: In fourth year we were in a group for our senior documentary class. It was the biggest project we worked on together and the most fulfilling, and it turned into an award-winner which validated all the work we put into it. When it came to everyday stuff, I would say we generally helped with reading each other’s work and giving feedback. Competition didn’t happen much unless Tamara was annoyed that I didn’t study or read for anything yet would still almost keep up with her!

Tamara: All the time! I took some history classes with Steve as electives and I would do all the readings, spend all night studying, etc. while he would go home and watch the Simpsons and eat cookies. And then I would only get 2% better than him.

 

(Courtesy: Tamara Sestanj)

Can you share any memories during your time as a couple in j-school?

Steve: I was heavily involved socially in j-school. I would hang around in the lounge all the time, stuck around after classes for hours to hang out. Tamara was very much the opposite. She thought my group of friends who would always do this were so weird.

So, I guess this could be considered our second date, but I told Tamara she had to come to the j-school vs. RTA karaoke night at The Ram. She did, and she had the pleasure of watching me go wild on Lose Yourself by Eminem. My best friend and I wore suits that night. Tamara got the whole experience. Thank goodness it didn’t scare her off.

Tamara: Our cute dates! We often had day-dates after or between classes since he lived in Markham and I lived in Mississauga, so it always made the most sense to just meet up after class. We used to go to the movies so often that there would be times where we saw every movie playing.

How did your relationship have any impact on your career after j-school?

Steve: Tamara has always been extremely understanding of my career and I think being in j-school is a reason why. Although she now works in a traditional 9-5, I’m in sports journalism and the hours aren’t always normal. But Tamara has always been supportive of it all.

Tamara: Fun fact! I got into PR because of Steve. We were nearing the end of university and he got an interview for a magazine internship that I also applied for and I felt I was WAY more qualified for (BECAUSE I AT LEAST TOOK MAGAZINE CLASS!). I was bitter so I started applying to EVERYTHING possible in a desperate attempt to not be the one who had nothing lined up after university. I ended up getting a summer paid internship fairly quickly (out of the Ryerson j-school job board!) in a PR firm. I knew almost nothing about PR and it forced me into a position don’t think I would have normally taken. But here I am three years later, still in PR (but in a different firm), and loving my job (sorry for being a traitor, j-school).

Your favourite thing about your partner or relationship?

Steve: She calls me out on my sh**. I need it sometimes and because of it, I’m a better person. We’ve been together six years now, and I love her more every day.

Tamara: Steve’s literally my best friend. He is nothing but supportive, and only ever wants the best for me. He never wants me to be anything but happy. I honestly could not imagine spending my life with anyone else because I don’t think anyone would ever be able to look at our relationship in the selfless way Steve does. I miss him when he’s not around and love spending every possible moment with him – six years later!

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Steve: Don’t let ‘journalism’ get in the way. If you’re in a relationship, treat it like a relationship, not like a ‘journalism relationship’. It’s about wanting to spend time with each other and get to know each other from something other than your program, even if that’s why and how you met.

Tamara: Enjoy this time together! Enjoy being able to see each other every day and having the majority of your life intersect in a very mutual place. And enjoy that you’re downtown and have all these amazing date spots so close by! It gets a lot harder once you have full-time jobs, especially if you both live in different cities AND work in different cities. Unless you move in together (which we finally did last year), life’s great if you get to come home to each other

Andrew and Nicolle at the Stonehenge in England in 2017. (Andrew Wahl and Nicolle Wahl)

 

Andrew Wahl and Nicolle (Charbonneau) Wahl (RSJ ‘98 grads)

 

Tell us how you met.

We shared classes since reporting in first year, but we didn’t really talk to each other in the fall of our third year. Andrew suggested we skip the last half of our 3-hour psychology class in a windowless lecture hall, and instead hang out in the Quad on one of the last warm, sunny days of fall. Fortunately, Nicolle agreed, and our mutual friends did not. We spent the afternoon just the two of us chatting outside and started dating that December.

How did being journalism students influence your relationship?

We wouldn’t have met otherwise! Nicolle lived off-campus and our circle of friends was in j-school. We both respected each other’s work ethic and empathized with the others’ priorities, as well as insecurities.  

Did you ever compete or help each other with articles, projects or school work?

We did not compete [because Andrew would lose, and he’s smart enough to know that – ed.], but we have always supported each other’s professional pursuits, and that began at Ryerson.

Can you share any memories during your time as a couple in j-school?

We worked together on the same RRJ Masthead (the King Kong Peace Tower cover). While Lynn Cunningham had some initial misgivings, we probably had the least dramatic relationship dynamic in that magazine lab. But once, a colleague did walk in on us snogging in the Eyeopener production room, where Andrew was Production Manager.

 

Andrew, Nicolle and their two children: Meghan, 14, and Erik, 10. (Andrew Wahl and Nicolle (Charbonneau) Wahl)

 

How did your relationship have any impact on your career after j-school?

We always pursued our own paths and supported each other’s long nights. Andrew joined Canadian Business magazine for 11 years right out of j-school; Nicolle wrote for a US-based medical website before joining the University of Toronto News Services. Since we married in 2001, bought a home in 2003 and children in 2004 and 2008, our careers have been shaped by our commitment to family responsibilities. Andrew negotiated with the magazine to work from home to be close to their children’s daycare because Nicolle needed to commute. More recently, Nicolle’s career has advanced at the University of Toronto Mississauga while Andrew runs his own digital marketing practice from home. We find a balance between career and family.

Your favourite thing about your partner or relationship?

We’ve known each other more than 22 years now — more than half our lives — so that’s hard to narrow down. But we lift each other up and save each other from our worst inclinations, and we make each other laugh a lot. Even after all these years, we’re still best friends.

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Be patient with each others’ academic demands, so you both have the space to succeed.

And be careful where you snog.

(Courtesy: Josie Mills)

 

Josie Mills and Steven Ellis (RSJ ‘18) grads

 

Tell us how you met.

We had a first-year reporting class together and didn’t really talk much. Steven often tweeted Josie during class… even though he was sitting only a few feet away. Josie tried to talk to Steven a few times but he typically just left as soon as class was over to commute back home. Josie gave up on Steven and actually starting seeing other people because she thought he didn’t like her (because he was too nervous to actually talk to her in person) but we eventually hung out a few times after that and really started talking in second year when we both were living in downtown Toronto and bonded over having the same class assignments.

How did being journalism students influence your relationship?

Being in journalism together helped, because we both had interests in the same field. It was an icebreaker and as we were both new students, we worked together on projects and assignments for the next few years (both successfully and unsuccessfully).

Did you ever compete or help each other with articles, projects or school work?

We never really competed in school, other than grades in mandatory classes. Steven always had his sights set on covering hockey and that never really changed, he was more set on passing then beating Josie. Josie was still unsure what kind of journalism she wanted to do, but later found that she had interest in television production and even worked on Steven’s hockey show for parts of two seasons.

Can you share any memories during your time as a couple in j-school?

I think one of the best memories we have in j-school was when Josie brought Steven heart-shaped Krispy Kreme donuts on Valentines Day in the j-lounge. Also one of our first “hangouts” was in The Venn late at night where we were supposed to be studying, but just ended up watching YouTube videos and listening to music and getting to know each other. We also were in the Ryersonian together in our final year.

Your favourite thing about your partner or relationship?

Steven really likes that Josie won’t stop working hard to achieve what she wants. She’s often working two jobs, even if she doesn’t need to, just to stay active in media. Josie really likes that Steven is so dedicated to what he loves, he is obsessed with hockey and racing (sometimes it’s a bit too much) but he really puts his whole heart into spreading knowledge about international hockey and racing. He also understands the value of family and good friends … and he loves my cats just as much as I do.

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Don’t do important projects together. If you don’t agree on something, it will just go downhill. We had times where we worked very well together, but it can be a big problem if you have different visions for a project and can’t compromise. We worked together on a documentary for class and it was challenging at times to be group members and also in a relationship.

 

(Courtesy: Elizabeth Ng)

Elizabeth Ng (RSJ ‘98) and Thomas Duke (RSJ ‘97) grad

 

Tell us how you met.

Liz: I was in the same year as Jeff Gray (now the Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall Reporter). Tom was in the same year as Jeff’s then-girlfriend-now-wife, Alison Masemann (now at CBC Radio’s The Current). Jeff invited me to his birthday outing sometime in the late summer after graduation. I knew some, but not all of the group that gathered for Jeff”s birthday. I was particularly intrigued by the tall blond guy with the Hugh Grant hair. (it was the late 90’s after all…)

Tom: Liz claims she did not know me when we were in school.  I am skeptical. Jeff’s birthday is in August. A bunch of us from our class at Ryerson met for dinner and then planned to go out afterwards.   She was quiet, but I noticed her.

Liz: The next day, I emailed Jeff and Alison to ask if Tom was single.

Tom: The next day – I also emailed Jeff and Alison to see if Liz was single

Liz: Alison replied with one word: “Very.”

Tom:  There are a number of ways which you could interpret Alison’s response.  None of them are flattering for me.

Liz: Jeff replied with something along the lines of “Runway cleared for takeoff.”

Tom: Jeff responded “She also emailed to see if you’re single…so you’re clear to land on runway 4”

Liz:…which Alison quickly clarified, saying she thought Jeff meant go right ahead and ask him out.

Tom: After Jeff’s response, I did not need any clarification

Liz: Can’t for the life of me remember who actually called the other for a first date, though.

Tom: I called her. There was no texting in the summer of 1998

How did your relationship have any impact on your career after j-school?

Liz: No, because the aims and focuses of our workplaces at the time (Tom was at TSN, I was a part of the CBC Radio national newsroom) were and are very different. We rarely competed to get the same people for the same story. We did often work quite different shifts, but were generally lucky to have weekends off so we made it work.

Tom: Yes – I was working at TSN, which is mostly evenings (because that’s when sports happen) and Liz was working the early morning shift at CBC Radio, so timing was not ideal.

Your favourite thing about your partner or relationship?

Liz: A few things: his sense of humour, his generosity, his honesty, his gregariousness, his odd talents. His copious amount of hair. Shame it isn’t still blond.

Tom:  We’ve been together for 20 years now, so hard to pick just one thing.  She is patient and kind.  Like many journalists interested in a lot of things, and enjoys good stories.   

What would you say to current journalism students that are in a relationship with other journalism students?

Tom: Those years at Ryerson were some of my absolute favourites.  It’s not a surprise to me that there are lots of relationships at j-school.  People with common interests and common goals work together, a lot.

 

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.