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Final Exam

Photo of Discovery Channel's co-host Ziya Tong.

Rebel by Design

Tommy Smythe discusses compassion and courage during his formative years, both of which helped lay the foundation for his design and TV career.

By Laura Bickle
Photo: Michael Graydon

Describe yourself in grade school.

Small. Courageous. Curious.

Describe yourself in high school?

Rebellious. Lost. Found. Fun.

What was your favourite subject?

Art. It was the only thing that I received praise for in elementary school.

Favourite literary pieces studied?

Catcher in the Rye, and Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion - that book changed me.

What would you have liked to have been taught in school but weren't?

That the things that make me different were the things that would give me entree into everything I wanted in life.

Did you have any non-fiction heroes?

Eleanor Roosevelt. Greek philosophers. Harvey Milk. Anyone who was and is courageous; it's the most useful and attractive quality.

Qualities you appreciated in a teacher?

Patience, compassion, humour and generosity.

Any favourite fictional teachers?

Lydia Grant [played by Debbie Allen] in Fame; Gabe Kotter [Gabe Kaplan] in Welcome Back, Kotter; and Jean Brodie [Maggie Smith] in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Fondest school-related memory?

When June Callwood spoke at my high school about recognizing kindness; it changed my view on life. I wanted to serve and it led to me volunteering at Casey House [HIV/AIDS hospice that journalist/activist Callwood co-founded].

As a student, what career path did you dream of following?

Architecture. But I was told I couldn't pursue it because of my lack of math skills. It killed my spirit but now I work with some of the best architects in North America.

What natural gift did you wish you possessed? And now?

Math skills! Now, I wish I could sing.

If you could create a new course, which would you choose?

How to do your taxes.

Best advice given while at school?

My best friend's dad [comedic actor Don Harron of Hee Haw] saw that I was struggling in high school and told me that my otherness would become my greatest strength.