Happy Valentine's Day from The School of Accounting and Finance

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's Day from SAF!  We wanted to share with you a story of two SAF alumni that met and fell in love on campus.

Shana and Jose

Pictured above are Shana and Jose, this is their story.

Where did you first meet?

Our paths first crossed during a second year Calculus class at the University of Waterloo.  It wasn’t exactly “love at first sight”, but quite the opposite.  Although both Jose and I were in the Math Accounting class graduating in 1997, we followed different paths.  Jose attended St Jerome’s college and I had enrolled in the “normal” main campus program, mistakenly thinking that the church colleges were inferior.  After all, the St Jerome’s classrooms appeared like those in a high school, complete with individual desks; my courses were taught in large lecture halls which appeared to have more prestige and grandeur.  Boy, was I wrong!  Following a lecture with my then calculus professor was challenging.   Perhaps it was because he may have been brilliant and I a mere normal student.  His thick accent only made things that much more difficult and my friends and I felt the pressure of maintaining our grade averages.  We heard about Cynthia Struthers and how wonderful a teacher she was, making the complex, simple.  She taught at St Jerome’s.  Alas, her class was oversubscribed at that point.  A few of my friends decided to “audit” her class.  On many occasions, it became standing room only at the back.  Knowing how packed it was and wanting a seat, so I could take notes, I showed up early and sat on the centre seat of the first row.  One of the girls sitting beside me leaned over and said “You can’t sit there. That is Jose’s seat.” Puzzled, I quipped back that we were in university and there was no such thing as “assigned seating.” She responded saying that Jose was a big Spanish guy and that she had duly warned me.  Class began.  A few minutes late, Jose stormed in. He assertively told me “That’s my seat”.  Being stunned and with some regret, I moved to the back of the class.  (Jose’s excuse is that he had to be at the front to avoid being distracted).

In 1997, we were both working for Price Waterhouse on a co-op work term. Our projects took us to Havana, Cuba, and that’s when we really had a chance to start to get to know one another.

When did you start dating?

That’s a tough one.  We were with a group of staff from Price Waterhouse and therefore we were rarely alone together and often went out as a group. So, I must disappoint; there was no specific event that we could call an “official first date.”  Eventually, Jose did ask me out for dinner and we ended up going to a restaurant in Havana called La Ferminia. It was in a lovely old mansion.  We sat outside in the garden and the whole atmosphere of the place was magical and nostalgic.

What is your fondest memory of UW?

Some might think it was a party, a wild event, but for both of us, it was bringing the best of UW to develop the accounting profession in Cuba (which had been undernourished since the 1959 revolution).  As part of our MAcc thesis, we worked together on a project to take a big leap to this goal of developing the profession.  We worked together with UW professors Howard Armitage and Jack Hanna, as well as our sponsor, ex-alumni, friend, and ex-PwC Partner, Mike Garvey.  Our task was to develop a world-class accounting program for the University of Havana. When I think back, it was a lot of late nights in the UW School of Accounting and Finance’s computer lab, researching and typing away.  Remember, these were the days before personal laptop computers.  It wasn’t all that long ago, but I am starting to feel dated by mere reflection.  The all-nighters in the computer lab were interspersed with reading accounting journals in the hallways of the Dana Porter library.  We would often go to the top floor, find a cubical along the outer walls next to a window, and settle in until closing time.  We did also visit Havana during reading week to research and work with a number of University professors and Ministry of Finance officials who supported the development of the program.  The contrast of the Cuban facilities to those we had at UW was like night and day. I can remember it as clearly as if it was yesterday, probably because I was so shocked.  The blackboard was broken, desks were without chairs, second-hand books (if available) had to be shared.  The basics were missing. Our sponsors and supporters from both countries wanted to change that.

Anyway, it wasn’t all a walk in the park. Professor Armitage sometimes played the role of relationship counsellor as well as thesis advisor. Jose and I can both be stubborn and we have strong personalities.  Working together isn’t easy, and working so closely on a joint thesis wasn’t perhaps the smartest move for our relationship.  I am confident, however, that the arguments and disagreements only made the end product better.  It is one of our fondest memories because we felt the satisfaction of having really accomplished something important and tangible: building bridges between Canada and Cuba, while making our profession stronger.

A second fond memory was more recent.  On two occasions, we brought our children, Bianca and Mateo, now 11 and 10, to campus to meet a number of the professors from SAF.  Our daughter attended the engineering camp last summer and, despite living in Amsterdam, Bianca has every intention of attending UW after high school, not Harvard or Yale (in her words).

How soon after graduation did you marry?

Jose’s answer: Many, many years.
Shana’s answer: Since August 22, 2003. 

Do you have any marriage advice that you'd like to share?

That’s a tough one.  I guess, opposites do attract. Professor Armitage sometimes referred to us as chalk and cheese.  Different experiences test a relationship, so does distance.  We found that we can overcome any of life’s challenges because our values, priorities and ambitions are aligned.  Jose has some wonderful qualities; I value them, as he does mine.  Relationships need love, patience, and time; they are imperfectly, perfect.  We work to each other’s strengths and understand our vulnerabilities.  In our minds, we are invincible … together.