“Just think of yourself as a $100 bill folded up into an airplane and then thrown into the sky.”
This was one of Zack Noureddine’s last tweets. On Dec. 30, the 25-year-old former Algonquin journalism student was murdered in a Yonge Street robbery in Toronto.
A group of 15 to 20 of Noureddine’s friends will be getting a matching tattoo to commemorate their shared mourning of a young man who not only wore his heart on his sleeve daily but also gave his away eagerly without a second thought.
Life at the college continues but he will be remembered by many. Friends, family and faculty repeat the same qualities when they speak of Zack. Soulful. Sharing. An explorer. Ambitious. The latter was what left the biggest impact on his younger brother, Russell, 20, a second-year Marketing and Advertising student at Algonquin.
“No matter what he did he would get somewhere good,” said Russell. “He never took no for an answer. He always got what he wanted.”
Noureddine studied Journalism at Algonquin, leaving in 2014 to start work in Toronto at HiphopCanada. He was known by those close to him for his journalistic ambitions and his dedication to arts and culture. He had the type of character that leads a young man to interview his favourite cultural icons, work briefly as a correspondent in Lebanon, or to move to a big city to chase his dreams.
“When he first came to me with his Rolling Stone Magazine idea it took him a bit to convince me,” said Julie McCann, a journalism professor. She tells the story fondly of Noureddine’s first choice for his internship. “I saw it as a challenge over the weeks and months of him not dropping it.”
McCann said she initially met the idea with “Negative Nelly” eyes, or as an “old fuddy-duddy” who considered the idea a theoretically far-fetched dream.
Noureddine surprised her and other instructors in the Journalism department by connecting with someone from Rolling Stone magazine on his own, providing a name for McCann to contact in hopes of facilitating the field placement of his dreams.
She said he was always bright in optimism, believing there is nothing that can’t be done.
The logistics of setting up a Canadian student in the United States was the real difficulty and, had there not been these concerns, McCann believes Noureddine’s ambition and passionate fight for his goals would have landed him the dream internship that even she had originally questioned.
“He was a positive kid who saw the best in others and the best in himself,” said McCann. “His innocence was a gift.”
Noureddine was a big fish in a small pond, and he went out of his way daily to challenge himself to find even bigger ones.
Shortly after midnight on Dec. 30, 2015, the family got the call. Noureddine was the victim of a violent robbery after a business meeting at a Midtown restaurant in Toronto. The assault left him with severe trauma to the back of the head and spine. He was brought to the hospital in a coma and was placed on life support until his family was able to get to his side.
“The last time I saw him was on Christmas Day,” said Russell. “I drove him to the Greyhound.” They actually missed the last bus but Noureddine was determined to get back to Toronto for a business meeting.
It was supposed to be for just a few days. The plan was that he was going to return home for New Year’s Eve. His mother had even bought Zack a new suit for him to wear to the festival that they did not attend in the end.
He had a thing about suits. His professionalism and passion for aesthetics were obvious in his dressing habits. Even when he was at his family’s home, Russell recalled Noureddine would be in a suit just watching television with his brother who would invariably be in sweats and a t-shirt.
“He was wicked talented,” says Julia Vodyanyuk, 22, a graduate of the Journalism program in 2014 and Zack’s ex-girlfriend. “He was soulful. Introspective. An individual. He cared a lot about art and was super critical of his own work.”
His successes always came off as effortless to others but she saw how much time and hard work he put into everything he created.
Noureddine lived for the stories he told and the photos he took. But even in death, he continued to share.
Russell recalls that it was during the holidays, just before his death, that Noureddine announced to his family his decision to become an organ donor. It was not too long later that six of Noureddine’s organs were used to help others live a fuller life.
Remembering the values that Noureddine held so strongly has been helping his friends and family to cope with their loss.
“He taught me to never look back,” Russell said. “Don’t stop fighting until you can’t fight no more. That was his motto. Work hard. Perseverance. You gotta work hard to make mom and dad happy.”
In Noureddine’s short 25 years he lived a full life. That gives his family and friends comfort.
Sharing stories, beauty and truth are all elements a successful journalist strives to make a part of his or her daily life. Every so often, with enough passion and dedication, the journalist may succeed in becoming what has been shared – a story worth telling. And that is a life to remember.