Reaching High, Educating Others, & Advocating for Equality
Ben Gebauer is second-year Broadcast and Online Journalism student, a professional cannabis consultant, and a breath of fresh air. His effervescent personality and witty humour shines in each class and he is one of the only people in our set who has made a point to get to know everyone individually; most would prefer to get their work done and get out.
I remember meeting the 22-year-old for the first time last year. It was the Broadcast and Online Journalism program orientation day, for the instructors to tell us about the different multimedia elements of the industry we’d later practice, like videography, photojournalism, radio, writing for news, and more. We were all speaking in pairs (introducing ourselves to each other) during some cringe-worthy ice breakers.
Fast forward two semesters and a global pandemic, and there we were, sitting at Jonathan Rogers Park, just after he got off his shift at the nearby City Cannabis Co. It was a sunny, fall afternoon and we could hear the sounds of everyday life; planes flying overhead, dogs chasing balls, kids running through the grass, and conversations within the small groups gathered at various corners of the park. The grass was backed by the vibrant murals on the office buildings and the city’s skyline overhead. We shared a laugh while sipping our iced americanos about how I could describe our interview setting as rolling hills surround by lush greenery and dogs roaming free instead of just a dog park. I believe the actual beauty of it was that we were able to meet together (socially-distanced of course) and get a dose of normalcy in this turbulent time.
Gebauer has always had an interest in media; his interest sparked from watching the popular 90s sitcom Frasier, which featured a psychiatrist that had a radio show. Because it was a comedy, it often made jokes about mental health, but the psychiatrist helped people and brought important issues to light, many of which would play a role later on in Gebauer’s experience as a teen and young adult.
“There was something I liked about broadcasting your experience, telling stories that help and are productive and move society forward,” says Gebauer.
While some people in the program are new to being on camera, Gebauer is a natural, having a foundation of dance performance and acting experience to build on. At 15 years old he was signed with a talent agency after his drama teacher—who also taught Seth Rogen—said he should get an agent. By the first evening, his mother had replies from the top three agencies in Vancouver. He worked in TV commercials and loved expressing himself on camera.
However, after finishing high school, he moved away from the cameras and focused his energy on the two-year writing program at Langara – which became his outlet.
“I have ADHD and my brain runs a million miles a minute. I [felt] like I needed some formal platform to get it out and organize those thoughts and ideas in a structured way,” says Gebauer. When he was a kid, he would get frustrated when he couldn’t communicate his messages properly, as he may have been talking quickly or didn’t have the right vocabulary at the time. Learning to compartmentalize his thoughts and put them down on paper laid the foundation he would utilize at BCIT to publish real-life stories. “I can do that through videos, through writing, I can do it on radio. The possibilities are limitless.”
It was around that time Gebauer found a profession he enjoyed, as a Professional Cannabis Consultant – a title that didn’t exist two years ago. Before then, he was a regular at Evergreen Cannabisconsuming cannabis to aid his anxiety, and was offered employment at Evergreen when marijuana was legalized. While working there, he met representatives from different licensed producers, including Tweed, which owns Houseplant—Seth Rogen’s cannabis company. Gebauer joined a business call with Rogen, to talk about his brand, “which is super exciting because we had gone to the same high school and now I’m selling his weed. It was really cool full circle moment,” says Gebauer.
While often people think it’s just selling marijuana, many don’t know about the educational component. Case in point: the next few minutes of our conversation involved words I had never heard of like lineages, phenotypes, and terpene. Jargon aside, Gebauer goes home from work with a smile on his face knowing he’s helping people – whether it’s to fall asleep or calm their anxious thoughts – in the same way was helped when he was a customer. Like purchasing alcohol (i.e. having varietal types and it’s not a one-size-fits-all), Gebauer believes embracing opportunities to educate people can change narratives. He believes it’s a step forward to diminish the taboo around consuming cannabis.
While we were finishing our coffees, I noticed his ankle tattoo, which was two horizontal lines in black ink, representing equality. He got it when he was 18 and says he knows without a doubt equality will be important to him until the day he dies. The tattoo is also a reminder to make sure whoever comes in contact with him, they feel he is approachable, because he believes in the equality of everybody. Knowing Ben, though, he has a warmth and approachability that shows you he is someone who is listening intently to what you’re saying, even when it’s something hard to talk about. He adds it’s harder for some more than others, as students encompassed in news are faced with reading upsetting, heavy stories like COVID-19 related content and the Black Lives Matter movement protesting against police brutality every day, as a part of learning.
“It was very strange because I’m adopted into a Caucasian family and I don’t have a lot of black friends or black leadership in my life. I was turning to people that I look up to online and the educators about black people in the media,” he explains, “all of a sudden everyone started talking to me as one of the few or a black person in their life. While that was understandable, it was strange because I felt this weird duality, like I am black, but I also was raised with this specific issue not being the biggest risk to me here.” He adds his life obviously had its challenges, but he felt he could not speak on these issues because he was not raised in the environment directly having these experiences with police.
During the spur of information circulating around the Black Lives Matter movement, he found it difficult. “People almost were looking to me to be told what to feel. And I told them I’ll let you know when I figure it out. It was sometimes hard because people would almost demand to speak to me, sometimes simply to educate themselves.” At that time, he took a step back and learned about the adversities by turning to influential people in the community online.
Those close to Gebauer, including his friends from school, understood where he stood and respected it. Synergetic with respect others, his equality sign also reminds him to stand up for when you see things that are wrong. “People realize that, especially this year. I mean [it comes] hundreds of years later, but at least the conversation now is at the forefront.”
The same applies for mental health. It wasn’t until his first panic attack that he understood the severe consequences of pushing yourself without taking time to rest. “Now, I’m meeting people who experienced the same issues with mental health and being in this very intense program. A lot of those issues, it’s hard to handle them sometimes. I think that’s why it’s even more important to be you know, vocal and forthright about your issues,” he says.
This mission grew from growing up in a Christian setting and having to promote equality against prejudice in his household which has translated into vocalizing his concerns outside of his house as well. But he knows it has to be a team effort. “Everyone needs to do their part in some degree. That could be listening to someone in the conversation and educating themselves, be volunteering at a soup kitchen physically, watching a documentary, or listening when there’s a guest speaker – even if you don’t understand what they’re saying, listen and give them that dignity,” says Gebauer.
Gebauer stresses the importance of finding a like-minded group of people (and hanging onto them) to move forward into the school year with, whether it’s a group chat or getting to know your colleagues over Zoom.
Unfortunately, when COVID-19 sent the students into lockdown and school transitioned to online, the social butterfly went from being with people and hearing them all of the time to radio silence. He felt the weight of isolation in a “Twilight Zone,” as he called it.
The journalism program is one of the few (35 percent of the institution) that’s teaching in-person classes, offering a blended model of remote and on campus learning. Gebauer is amongst the many students and instructors returning to the ghost town of a campus and taking the new normal day-by-day.
School’s work-life balance, fueled by the sheer ambition to succeed, mixed with society’s current grind culture and overtly competitive job market, was heightened by the pandemic. Luckily, Gebauer has exercised knowing when to pull back when his workload gets heavy.
Pulling back is what he describes a favour to himself and by continuously practicing that (either himself or letting someone close to him know), he’s getting better at diminishing anxious thoughts in the moment. A way someone else can do this is by being kinder to their selves. “Life is hard enough as it is and with COVID-19, no one was prepared for this. This is a curve ball. Every single person is going through it in some degree,” says Gebauer.
“I’ve noticed I can push myself to the point where I’m feel exhausted and then I’ll get sick or I’ll break down,” he says. “Now I know it’s very important to take care of [me], when I feel myself getting too riled up or too anxious, I’ll always take a step back and reanalyze.”
Drawing on his past experiences with balancing mental health, Gebauer believes he’s equipped with the right tools in his box to handle any upcoming obstacles. “But I think that I’m going to always adding new tools to the box. Things will come up but I really do take it day by day because then I kind of overthink. So I do feel I’m well equipped, but you don’t know [what] you’re capable of until it happens,” he says. Although that scenario can seem scary, Gebauer’s knows from his track record he’s set his sights on creating new retrospective habits.
“I’ve always been — especially the past few years — for my own sanity and serenity, kinder to myself.” He adds it’s not about making excuses for yourself, more so about forgiving yourself when you tried your best and it either didn’t please people, get a good grade, or something didn’t come out of it. During his time at BCIT, two factors helped him get by: having a good support network of friends and siblings, and not feeling guilty when doing some little to treat himself, like getting his favourite food.
With a “work hard, play hard” mentality most Vancouverites adopt, Gebauer says as long as he knows his work done and he feels accomplished, he doesn’t have to feel guilty about ordering a pizza or having some wine in the middle of the week. Quite frankly, isn’t that what we all do when we’re working against the BCIT grind?
“First year we had eight or so courses. They told us at the beginning that it was going to be like a job and I kind of like laughed it off, but they were right. You really do go in and your [morning] class would only go for an hour, but the work you do can take you until 5:00 p.m., sometimes 5:00 a.m. the next day… there’s definitely a continuous workload, but it’s doable,” states Gebauer. He credits his network of friends and other support to doing ‘the grind’ to get the work done.
“A lot of people hear the words ‘hard work’ and think it has one meaning. I think it can be a variety, like hard work doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going home exhausted in tears. It could mean you go home feeling fine, that what you’ve done helped a lot of people, for example, or you made a big impact or you’ve contributed to the bigger picture.”
A commonly-used simile for taking care of mental health is that it like having a second job. For those doing a balancing act with school, work, and taking care of their mental wellbeing, it can be overwhelming, but by providing the right treatment and support, we can help others get that much closer to the finish line. Something Gebauer wishes he know before starting the program is that if the workload feels like too much, not to be discouraged because everyone is in it together.
“No one says you have to show up to class looking like a raggedy mess because you were up until 4:00 a.m. and no one says you have to lose sleep. You know what I mean? You do your best. Hard work will look different, so don’t spend too much time worrying about what that means,” he says. Although newcomers may not know the full weight of the rigorous school grind yet, Gebauer says to “just do your best and, and the hard work will follow.”
Asides from graduating, Gebauer looks forward to watching his classmates’ progress and see what they accomplish this year.