O, Canada

Watching the Toronto Raptors in the NBA finals made me think of the night almost five years ago when at a hockey game in Canada the sound system malfunctioned during the singing of the national anthems. Anthems in plural because at professional sports events in Canada they traditionally sing the Canadian anthem and the U.S. anthem. The sound system failed just when the singer started The Star Spangled Banner, but even though the crowd could not hear her, the Canadian fans sang the entire song word for word.
It was the perfect thing to talk about in my Intro to Mass Communications class the next day. “How many Americans know the words to the Canadian national anthem?” I asked, mostly rhetorically.
“I do,” one student said.
I was skeptical, but on second thought, I shouldn’t have been. This student, let’s call him Michael (because, well, that’s his name) had been surprising me since the first time I saw him in class that September.
Few people I’ve met, students or otherwise, have made my jaw drop as much as this guy. I’ve heard him quote entire passages of Shakespeare verbatim. I’ve heard him quote entire passages of the Bible. I’ve listened as he spoke fluent Polish with a student who moved here only recently and is struggling with English. I’ve also heard him speak fluent French.
It seems he’s read every book I have and several I have not. And seen ten times the movies.
When he found out I keep a fridge full of sodas in my office free for the taking, he helped himself every now and then but always left behind a dollar. Then he showed up one day with a few cases to replenish my supply.
Michael, who was 50 years old at the time, is what we in higher education call a “non-traditional student.” That’s basically a student who wasn’t in high school a year or two earlier. Michael is about as non-traditional as it gets, and not just by age.
“Go ahead and sing it,” I said, not necessarily as a challenge because I learned long ago not to challenge Michael, but more as a request.
And he did sing it. Two verses, every word, deep baritone, perfect pitch.
I started the applause when he finished and the rest of the class joined in.
One young man said, “He’s got to be one of maybe five people in America who could do that.” I wondered aloud if there are five.

Ed Ackerman