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The Most Memorable Moments In Degrassi: The Next Generation

One of the longest-running teen shows ever, "Degrassi: The Next Generation" was on the air for an incredible 14 seasons from 2001-2014, totaling a mammoth 385 episodes. The Canadian program took place primarily at Degrassi Community School in Toronto, where it followed the lives of dozens of students throughout their high school experience. One of the most amazing things about the show was the fact that teenagers would actually play characters their own age –- which, while sounding reasonable, is hardly ever done. The show regularly tackled difficult subjects like sex, death, pregnancy, murder, and more, as there really wasn't anything "Degrassi" was afraid to tackle head-on.

The show has had several iterations since "Degrassi High" started airing in 1989, but it hasn't been on screens since "Degrassi: Next Class" ended in 2017. Just when it seemed like audiences were doomed to never see a new episode set in the world of "Degrassi" ever again, fans were blessed with the fantastic news that HBO Max would produce a new "Degrassi" series to premiere in 2023. To celebrate this return to "Degrassi," let's take a look back a the best moments in "Degrassi: The Next Generation."

Emma learns the truth about her online boyfriend

"Degrassi: The Next Generation" immediately established itself as a show with its finger on the pulse. The first episode, two-parter "Mother and Child Reunion," follows Emma (Miriam McDonald) the summer before starting high school. She has an online boyfriend named Jordan she's yet to meet in person. They have everything in common and bond over their passion for environmental activism. When Jordan tells Emma that he's coming to the city and that they should meet, she's thrilled. Her friends are all worried that he may not be who he says he is -– after all, Jordan says he's coming to Toronto on a school trip, but it's summertime.

Emma decides all her friends are just being silly and makes a bold decision to meet Jordan at the hotel. Since her mom is at her high school reunion, it's the perfect opportunity for her to meet her boyfriend without anyone knowing. As Emma waits for Jordan in the lobby, she's approached by Mr. Nystrom (Jeff Gruich), pizza box in hand, who claims to be Jordan's teacher. He lures her up to the hotel room as somber music plays. 

Emma soon realizes that there is no Jordan, or, rather, Mr. Nystrom is Jordan. Luckily, Emma's friends get into her emails and discover where she is, and she gets saved, but "Degrassi" begins with a genuinely terrifying, unforgettable moment, and a message about the dangers of meeting people you met online that is as prescient today as it was in 2001.

Paige finds power through song

Paige Michalchuk (Lauren Collins) is one of the most fascinating characters on "Degrassi." Her arc spans years on the show is full of rises and falls, but at the beginning of "Degrassi," she's the queen bee of Degrassi Community School. She's something of a mean girl and doesn't hesitate to tell people the truth. In the second season, Paige is raped at a party, which completely devastates her, though she tries to play it off at school and keep up her persona.

In "Shout: Part 2," Paige sees there's a songwriting competition with a trip to Los Angeles as the prize, so she gets her girl band PMS back together. Her bandmate Ashley (Melissa McIntyre), at Paige's request, writes a song about heavier, more real issues, which happens to be about rape, causing Paige to spiral. Ashley ultimately discovers that Paige is a victim of rape and sympathizes deeply with her. They agree to play a lighter song for the contest, but on the night, Paige recognizes her attacker in the audience.

Though she initially backs away in fear, in a bold and powerful sequence, Paige decides to perform and sing Ashley's song, after all, laying her soul bare on stage. Thanks to a fantastic and empowering performance from Collins, Paige's experience feels extremely resonant. Her attacker walks away in shame and Paige is able to reclaim her power, and the moment helps encourage her to seek help for the unspeakable horrors that occurred.

Manny's fashion stun the school

Manny Santons (Cassie Steele) is fed up –- she wants to be the one all the guys go for. As she tells her best friend Emma, "Wanna hear my mission? I wanna be hot. Not cute, not adorable -– hot." Manny takes off her oversized hoodie to reveal a more revealing outfit as she confidently shows more skin. This leads to her friend J.T. seeing her in a new light as he hilariously crashes his skateboard while staring at her.

Though Manny is pleased with receiving interest from J.T., she's keen to explore her newfound confidence within herself. While at the mall with Emma, she finds an underwear store and says a thong would be perfect for her new image, to which Emma wittily responds that they shouldn't even be sold in malls. After a clever edit, the audience is face to face with Manny's rear end as she walks the Degrassi hallways, with her very visible thong. As she walks, everyone turns to see her, and J.T., in particular, is left speechless. 

It's a great moment and a delightful send-up of typical high-school movie tropes where everyone is stunned by a student's new makeover. Impressively, the show never judge's Manny for her decisions, even if they're pretty inappropriate for school standards. Instead, "Degrassi" celebrates Manny's confidence and willingness to express herself in new ways, which is pretty groundbreaking by early 2000s standards.

Marco comes out

Marco (Adamo Ruggiero) has always been one of the guys. He's in a band with his friends and has been dating his girlfriend Ellie (Stacey Farber) for years. Despite his popularity, Marco has always struggled with himself. In Season 3's "Pride: Part 1," Marco and Ellie are no longer together. When the gang heads to the beach to hang out, Paige brings her older brother Dylan (John Francis Bregar), who is happily and openly gay. Marco certainly seems interested in Dylan, who tells his sister that he thinks Marco might be gay, which is quickly laughed off.

It all leads to one of the most groundbreaking moments in the show's 14-year run when Spinner (Shane Kippel) chases Marco after he walks out of a double date. Spinner can't believe that Marco would suddenly leave to help his mother with something, and he shoves Marco against the wall in frustration. Knowing that Spinner made some disparaging comments about gay people at the beach, Marco is visibly terrified of the situation he's found himself in. Spinner tells him it doesn't make sense he'd leave the date, but Marco says it does because he's gay. Ruggiero delivers the scene perfectly, balancing terror with a certain level of relief knowing he's free of having to pretend he's something he isn't any longer, as terrifying as the consequences might be.

Ellie deals with a dangerous decision

Ellie Nash has had the year from hell. In Season 3's "Whisper to a Scream," her father, a Colonel in the Canadian army, is shipped off to Afghanistan, leaving Ellie alone with her mother. Unable to bear the loneliness, Ellie's mom turns to alcoholism, leaving Ellie all alone to pick up the pieces of her mom's fragmented life. Her grades slip, she's always late, and an exciting opportunity seems to go up in flames after a disappointing interview.

After that interview, she comes home to her mother, barely awake on the couch lying next to empty bottles of vodka. Ellie goes upstairs to try and escape, but she can hear her mother crashing around and being sick, and it all becomes unbearable. She drops her school supplies, and the camera cuts back and forth between an emotional Ellie and her drawing compass, escalating tension. Ellie picks up the compass, and in a desperate attempt to mask her emotional pain, she uses it to cut into her skin, tears rolling down her cheeks.

It's one of the most harrowing moments in "Degrassi: The Next Generation," and another reminder of how the show takes a candid, no-holds-barred approach when it comes to tackling tough subjects. While Ellie eventually goes to group therapy to get the help she needs and overcomes her self-harm, it is a stark reminder that even though people may seem okay on the surface, it doesn't mean they aren't suffering inside.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Manny makes a groundbreaking decision

"Degrassi: The Next Generation" was no stranger to controversy, as the show constantly dealt with serious issues affecting teenagers with sensitivity and candor, all while never shying away from difficult details. The show tackled teen pregnancy, and all the complications that surround it, including abortion, in the Season 3 episode "Accidents Will Happen." 

Manny has started dating Craig (Jake Epstein), and the two are having unprotected sex, and Manny's world is soon rocked by pregnancy. Craig, who has never had a family of his own, is surprisingly supportive and excited about being a father, and he even gets a baby naming book. WIth Emma also excited for the baby's arrival, it feels like everyone is thrilled for Manny –- everyone except for Manny, that is.

The entire episode is harrowing, and Cassie Steele is sensational as Manny. Manny visits Emma's mother Spike (Amanda Stepto), who was a teenage mother, and the two have a heartfelt conversation about how Manny doesn't have to have the child. She tells her own mother in an emotional scene, and after weighing all of her options, decides that abortion is the best option for her life and future. In one of the best moments of the series, handled with a light touch and great honesty, Manny is at the clinic with her mother, sharing a touching look before the procedure. It's a moment that could easily be heavy-handed and melodramatic, but the moment is groundbreaking for its natural and realistic portrayal, making it all the more shocking when the American network that broadcast the show decided not to air the episode.

A shooting shakes Degrassi to its core

Perhaps the single most important "Degrassi: The Next Generation" episode in history, "Time Stands Still: Part 2" shocked audiences and everyone at Degrassi Community School. After hurting Terri (Christina Schmidt) and inadvertently putting her in a coma, Rick (Ephraim Ellis) became Degrassi's public enemy number one and is constantly bullied and tormented by his classmates.

Things come to a head when Rick's quiz team competes in an academic challenge called "Whack Your Brain." Rick successfully answers a question to seal victory for his team, but his jubilation is dramatically cut short as paint and feathers are dumped on him, taking his heroic moment and annihilating it.

Unable to take the bullying anymore, Rick decides to enact revenge on his tormentors. He leaves school but quickly returns, still covered in feathers and paint, with a gun. Desperate to take down whoever pulled the prank, Rick overhears some kids suggesting (falsely) that Jimmy (Aubrey Graham) was responsible. In the show's most dramatic moment ever, Rick appears next to Jimmy at his locker and points the loaded gun at him. Terrified, Jimmy begins to back away, but Rick, overflowing with rage, tells Jimmy, "You stabbed me in the back." 

As Jimmy runs away, Rick shoots him in the back. A number of other students witness the terrifying feat, and one tries to take the gun from him, resulting in Rick's accidental death. It is a shocking, unparalleled moment in "Degrassi" history.

An STI gets the kids of Degrassi talking

As one of the students close to Jimmy who witnessed the shooting, Emma is shaken by that devastating day. After shooting Jimmy, Rick tries to attack Emma for turning him down, which results in the intervention leading to his death. Emma, struggling with a feeling of responsibility, finds herself reeling, but she finds comfort in bad boy Jay (Mike Lobel). Things get heated between the two, and Emma ends up performing oral sex on Jay, who gives her a green bracelet as a sort of reward

In an episode that looked at the wild world of sex bracelets, a sensationalized trend that Snopes notes made the news cycles of the early 2000s, "Secret: Part 2" is filled with big moments. A nurse comes to talk to classes about a gonorrhea outbreak at Degrassi, which shocks Emma, who suddenly realizes her sore throat may be a lot more than a symptom of a cold. The best moment of the episode, and one of the best of the entire show, is when Emma confronts Jay for being irresponsible. She shouts at Jay, "You gave me a social disease!" 

It's one of the best lines in a show full of snappy dialogue. With that line, "Degrassi" delivers a powerful message of how sexually transmitted infections can be cured, but the societal stigma around them linger long after they're gone, which is an incredibly bold message for a show about teenagers.

One of Degrassi's most beloved is murdered

J.T. Yorke (Ryan Cooley) livens up the hallways of Degrassi Community School, as he is always smiling and cracking jokes. In the early seasons, J.T. develops his reputation as the school's ultimate class clown and is beloved by everyone at school. J.T. is the school mascot and has a long-term relationship with Liberty (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer), though by Season 6, he's in a relationship with new Degrassi arrival Mia (Nina Dobrev).

In "Rock This Town," J.T. leaves Liberty's birthday party looking for her but finds a few guys from the rival Lakehurst High at his car, who were kicked out of the party a few moments before. J.T. makes an offhand comment and laughs, which seems to inexplicably infuriate a member of the group. One of the boys says, "Oh yeah, mascot boy? Laugh at this." Then, he stabs J.T., killing him in cold blood.

While Rick was bullied for a while and the buildup to something shocking was certainly evident, there was no such preparation for J.T.'s death. In a move crushingly close to the reality of death, the stabbing of J.T. is quick and completely unexpected, making it a groundbreaking moment for a series typically content to draw climactic events out over multiple episodes, or even seasons. It's a devastating moment and a painful reminder that life is all too fleeting.

Darcy has a heartbreaking breakdown

"Degrassi" has always been wonderful for the way it peels back the layers, insightfully analyzing teen tropes and subverting them. One of those very tropes is the popular kid, and Darcy (Shenae Grimes) certainly appears to have it all. She starts her time at Degrassi as a religious and deeply judgemental person, though she transitions into a popular cheerleader at the top of the Degrassi totem pole.

Horrifically, Darcy is raped at the beginning of Season 7, causing her to go on a devastating spiral. Things come to a breaking point in "Live to Tell." Darcy's relationship with her boyfriend ends, and she begins to flirt dangerously with teacher Mr. Simpson (Stefan Brogren), who rejects all of her advances. She even goes so far as to falsely accuse Mr. Simpson of sexually harassing her.

Manny, who is deeply concerned about Darcy's erratic behavior, finds Darcy on the roof of Degrassi. In tears, Darcy says how everyone at school thinks she's a crazy slut. "I just feel like dirt, Manny. I'm dirt," Darcy tells Manny as she approaches the edge of the roof, ready to jump at put her misery to rest. Thankfully Manny pulls her back, but the moment is a crushing tale of how sexual assault results in unbearable trauma and a striking message about how women are often slut-shamed while men are not.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Peter's drug struggle

Season 9 of "Degrassi: The Next Generation" starts with some pretty crazy times for Peter Stone (Jamie Johnston). At the beginning of the episode, he's got it all, as he's the lead singer in his band and has a beautiful girlfriend. Nothing is ever stable for too long in "Degrassi: The Next Generation," however. Peter faces a serious struggle in "Just Can't Get Enough," as he tries what he thinks is cocaine but is actually crystal meth, starting a stifling drug addiction.

What's remarkable about the moment is how it's written so casually. It's easy for shows like "Degrassi" to feel like an after-school special, but in this great moment for the show, Peter takes drugs without hesitation, and there's no dramatic music underscoring the event or shocked reactions as he agrees to take the drugs. It's one of the show's most realistic moments in the way it shows that recreational drug use is a serious problem amongst teenagers and how the ways they take them aren't anything like they're so often depicted in television. Despite the critical scene being quite casual, "Degrassi" smartly makes the impact of the drugs a lot more serious, and the impact it has on Peter's life is well documented throughout the season.

Adam struggles with his identity

Adam Torres (Jordan Todosey) was a landmark character for a show always determined to reflect society. Adam made history for "Degrassi: The Next Generation" by being the first openly transgender character on the show, which was a great step forward for queer representation in television.

In Season 10's "My Body Is a Cage," the show thoughtfully details the difficulty transgender students face, especially in a new school. In a harrowing moment, a teacher reads out the class lists names for attendance, calling Adam by his deadname multiple times, before correcting himself. In another, Adam bumps into Clare (Aislinn Paul) and drops his tampons, but Clare covers for him when some guys question it. He's also seen using a binder in his bathroom mirror, and his mother frequently uses the wrong pronouns. Adam courageously tells his friends, explaining that he's "a guy between the ears," and they don't hesitate to completely embrace him.

Unfortunately, Adam is also exposed by another student who sees his binder, and the harassment starts, and Adam gets beaten up. Ultimately, Adam is embraced and beloved as the wonderful person he is at Degrassi, but "My Body Is a Cage" provides some seriously groundbreaking moments in "Degrassi" history.

A hockey star takes his own life

There was nobody who didn't like Cam Saunders (Dylan Everett) at Degrassi. A talented athlete and hockey star, Cam feels distinctly different from some of his rougher teammates, as he is deeply kind-hearted and good-natured. He has a healthy relationship with his girlfriend Maya Matlin (Olivia Scriven), and everything seems like it is generally all smiles for Cam. Underneath this glorious facade, however, Cam is a deeply tortured soul who doesn't even like hockey, despite being an excellent player.

Cam is overwhelmed by the unbearable pressure put on young athletes and tortured by constant feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression. In a shattering conversation with Allie (Melinda Shankar), Cam tells her he wishes he could sleep forever. She tells him everyone has bad days, and he heartbreakingly responds, "Every day is a bad day." Tragically for Cam, everything feels completely unbearable. After being suspended from school for a burst of violence, he feels hopeless and ends his life at night in the school greenhouse. Everett delivers a powerful performance highlighting the devastating impact of mental illness, reminding viewers that just because things seem fine on the surface does not mean that everything is alright underneath.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.