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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Zach Blackburn: Growth

Lily Speredelozzi | Senior Staff Photographer

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches — “30” was historically used to signify the end of a story — to reflect on their time at The Hatchet, published in the final issues of the year.

It’s a remarkable thing to watch a person grow.

Writing this farewell piece has been difficult: After thinking about this newspaper every day for three years, writing and editing thousands of articles, and enmeshing myself in this tiny world, it shouldn’t be a surprise I’ve had a hard time stepping back and reflecting. There are a lot of things I’ve pondered over the last couple of years—the meaning of community, the corporatization of GW, the concept of “reckoning,” and so much more. Unfortunately, I don’t have anything smart to say on those topics, at least not today.

So I didn’t know what to write about until I noticed a common refrain I kept jotting down for my thank-yous below: “I’m so proud of how much you’ve grown.”

The Hatchet, like most student papers, is a fascinating entity on its very face. This specific publication has chugged along for 120 years now, led exclusively by students who could barely identify a nutgraf three years prior.

With the occasional help of advisers, it’s students who handle the finances of a nonprofit, learn the ins and outs of journalism, and, most importantly, print the news. Each week, by some great miracle, a few dozen of us get together and make eight pages of news that is worthy of the stands. This isn’t solely to toot our own horn, but to acknowledge that we all needed some growth to get here.

During my freshman year, the COVID year, my editor Lia DeGroot hosted a training for a bunch of us lowly reporters. This was before I even knew I wanted to be a journalist.

For some reason, I don’t know why, I could not get the hang of active voice. Not a good sign for a journalist. I imagine Lia was frustrated when I kept sending in sentences in which an item of news simply happened without any specific person or thing doing the action. I’m frustrated too, thinking back.

But it clicked at some point. Subject + verb + object is now burned into my brain, so much so that I cringe when I see “real” journalists commit a particularly egregious act of passive voice. I’ve grown, and that’s what it’s all about.

Lily Speredelozzi | Senior Staff Photographer

Apologies in advance to my mother for the anecdote I’m about to share. I visited my old high school this past winter break and visited my favorite teacher, who turned AP European History into something of a churchlike experience: histories of old worlds flowing from the sermons of her lesson plans, all of them connecting to how we got here and how we can do better.

Anyway, I visited her with a confession, though not of the religious sort. I explained, with a frankness I rarely possess, how boring and useless I found most of my classes. I’m not cut out for academics, I told her, especially not academia.

Without hesitation, she replied, “Did you only just now figure that out?” I guess it was obvious the whole time. Sorry to my professors. It wasn’t personal.

Still, I don’t think any classroom can compare to the journalism school that is The Hatchet. It’s the real world out here, with real stakes hanging in the balance. That can be a weird thing to remember, considering the median age of our staff is barely 20. But we rise to the occasion as best we can.

We knock on strangers’ doors to ask if their room has mold (the hundredth door is no easier than the first, mind you), we report on the effect international figures have on our relatively smaller campus, and we tell the stories of community members who should still be with us.

We fuck up a bit each time. We are, of course, just students. We put out some great journalism, some not-so-great journalism, and everything in between. Still, we hold ourselves to account each time we screw up and then proclaim to ourselves, with the chutzpah of the naive, that we won’t screw up again.

And then we screw up again. So it goes.

But we learn a bit each time, too. We learn to triple-check names, we learn to confirm this or that, we learn how to not screw up. We’ve grown, and that’s what it’s all about.

The Hatchet will always be a work in progress.

Early in my tenure as EIC, I found myself somewhat regularly rewriting the tops of articles before they went out: adjusting the angle, finding sharper quotes, packing a punch with each sentence. The edits were needed, of course, but the work also helped satisfy what Orwell called the “sheer egoism” of writers—it felt good to know I could make an article better.

But then, by the time this semester rolled around, something happened: The rewrites weren’t really needed anymore. You lot got better.

Every day for the past year, I watched 50 people I love, who I’d do anything for, learn something new. Witnessing their unending development as writers, journalists, leaders, and humans will forever be one of the great honors of my life. I’ll be chasing this feeling for the rest of my life.

You’ve grown, and that’s what it’s all about.

To future generations of The Hatchet: Don’t forget your responsibility to your classmates, friends, and neighbors. Ask the hard questions; if you’re not uncomfortable, you might not be doing your job right. We’re counting on you.

Lily Speredelozzi | Senior Staff Photographer

Nick: We really did the thing, huh? I’m going to miss so much about our time working together—I’m going to miss more than I can even think of right now. I think the most refreshing thing about the past few years is the degree to which you just get it. It’s remarkable that we set a path for the newspaper without ever even sitting down and charting it; we hired the people we trusted and our vision materialized. Your knowledge of random writers at mid-sized newspapers across the country opened me up to a country’s worth of journalism that made me better—thank God you’re so well-read. It feels like we’ve aged into old Hatchetmen together: I like the idea of us being Statler and Waldorf. I’m not sure why, but I’ve been having a hard time reflecting on The Hatchet as our time comes to a close. That fact is especially true for you. I think it’s so hard because no matter how far I zoom out, you’re always there, helping me chug along. It feels like half the things I’m proud of in my adult life were done right by your side, and I don’t know what I’m going to do now. Maybe we’ll be partners again, sometime down the road.

Grace: Grace “Ideas Guy” Chinowsky. I’ve mentioned this anecdote once or twice, but I might as well write it down for posterity’s sake. I was training you and Henry to take over Metro, and I was having a case of writer’s/editor’s block. I huffed and hawed throughout the article, but you kept spitting out smart lines and good questions the entire time. It was a bit upsetting—I was supposed to be training you. Your subsequent rise through the paper was no surprise after that afternoon, though. It was exciting to watch you follow the Metro-SNE-EIC path that myself and Jarrod both took—it was even more exciting to watch you sharpen your journalism and grow as a leader. Next year will be hard, there’s no way around that. Stick to your gut, listen to the people around you, keep thinking outside the box, and don’t be afraid to take a second to breathe—you’ll do well.

Jarrod: Sneaky, Sneaky Jarrod, I hope Connecticut is treating you well. Your calm, consistent, methodical leadership set a standard I’ve strived to follow. Your ability to find the holes in any story is remarkable—I felt like I was never asking enough questions in my edits because they were rarely as thorough as yours. You forged the path I would take—Metro, SNE, EIC—and the whole time it just felt like I was trying to catch up. You can zhuzh up copy better than 99 percent of the people I know, even if your editing did take a tad bit too long. Still, I don’t know how you did it. Thanks for helping build me up into the journalist I am today.

Clara: Your diligence, care, and strong storytelling instincts came through in your stewardship of the Culture section: From bike guy to McReynolds’, you went on an incredible run that reminded our readers of everything we have to celebrate. Your excellence showed up in your leadership, too—helping get Ask Annie off the ground was clutch for the paper, and so many of your pieces/ideas/influence are still talked about today. Thanks for bringing me along for the ride. I’m not going to forget any of it, for better (Tyler, the Creator) or for worse (a certain eatery’s poor boba). I couldn’t have done it without your help.

Isha Trivedi: I wouldn’t have made it through my first semester on The Hatchet if it weren’t for you—I probably wouldn’t have even made it through mold week. Your mix of talent, camaraderie, and mastery of the admin beat inspires me to this day, as does the presence of mind that allowed you to take a step back and find the faults of any institution, including this one. I think The Hatchet is a much better place than it was three years ago, and I genuinely believe that started with me, you, Michelle, and Nick huddled in Square 80 or the student center or the National Mall, brainstorming ways to make a Hatchet that built up journalists instead of chewing us up. There’s still plenty of work to do, there always will be. But you made more of an impact than I think anyone realizes.

Jaden DiMauro: Thanks for staying on. Working with you was so much fun, I’m not sure I’ve ever had as many mind-melds with another person. I’m also not sure if I’ve ever laughed so hard as I have with you. Your help with everything from sports to business was invaluable this year, you really helped anchor this paper. And from chucking a rubber basketball at each other in the basement to ill-fated games of HORSE in Lerner to covering tremendous basketball games, your friendship got me through what may have been the toughest year of my life.

Michelle: It was inevitable. I remember my bloody nose that arrived right as you were telling me you were leaving staff, and even as I cleaned up I knew you’d be back in some way. Still, I didn’t expect it to be at The H*ya. So it goes. It was fascinating to bear witness to your hunger for news, especially given the fact you don’t want to be a journalist. I have no idea what you’re going to end up doing—something high-octane, for sure—but I have no doubts you’ll become a star. Thank you for the late editing sessions, the National Mall nights, the rum on the Kennedy Center roof with Isha, and so much more. It was a blast.

To Volume 120:

Faith: Bag! It’s hard coming into an institution like this, especially when you share a last name with its leader. But you quickly stood apart. Your news sense, tenacity, and solid reporting made you a strong news editor, and you’ll do just as well as ME. Watch Grace’s back. Write some emails for her, it’ll mean a lot.

Erika: Couldn’t ask for a better person to keep taking my jobs. You stand apart in dawg factor—your ability to lock in on a Sunday night at 11 p.m. and break a story on student government financial controversies for the front page is invaluable. Keep up the hard work, keep learning, and keep digging.

Ianne: I wish I could’ve worked with you more, but admin/academics was always more of Nick’s side of things. Your ability to balance mastery of a hard beat with First Ladies impressed me, and I’m ready to see what you can pull off while in charge.

Sejal: From beginning to end. From co-bylining our first week to your scoop in our final week on the paper, it’s been a helluva ride and I’m proud to have done it with you. You’ve already done so many great things, and I’ll be following your byline for years.

Fiona R. and Rachel: Now is a time for honesty, so here goes nothing: Academics has never been my favorite beat. I’m tired enough of classroom academics, so the thought of reading news articles about it has never particularly excited me. But so many times this year, you’ve flipped those expectations on their head. Your strong reporting and writing emblemize the grit of a storied line of academics editors before you, and I’m excited to see where you go. But for now, welcome to SNEdom. Text people back, keep ledes short, and leave some good edits.

Grace Miller: Your love for The Hatchet and its people shows your understanding of what makes The Hatchet such a special community. You’ve made some great papers over the years, and thank you for your work in the past year on making a welcoming paper for everyone.

Nicholas Anastácio: Thank you for all the late-night graphics that came in looking squeaky clean. Your tact and perspective made us better members of our community, and I was glad to have you on my leadership team.

Ethan Benn: Facemaxxing king. There are a lot of capital-C Characters associated with The Hatchet, many of whom worked for you; still, I think you’re my favorite. I feel like we’ve seen each other on the very extremes of existence—mostly the lows. I looked forward to our meetings more than anything else in a given week, both for your rants on whatever Krugman or Stephens or French had just published and your despair over whichever round of edits had caused you the most pain the night before. I also always looked forward to reading your work, as you’re one of the most gifted writers I’ve ever met. I expect Nick and I will keep in touch with you.

Riley: Your advocacy for writers—especially those who are underrepresented on campus and by The Hatchet—was vital. Especially when Ethan and I expressed nothing but cynicism, your unrelenting clarity and courage made the paper so much better.

Paige: Thanks for putting on ed board, it’s hard getting that all together. You grew a lot over the course of the year, both in your writing and leadership. Stay locked in, you’ll do well.

Nick Perkins: It was a pleasure to watch you grow as a writer and leader over the course of the year. I see some of myself in you (sometimes for better and sometimes for worse), and that gives me confidence that you’ll grow even stronger this next year. In a tumultuous year, you and Jenna always gave me a breath of fresh air and delivered consistent, engaging articles when we needed it most. We’ll always have that Maestro mac and cheese.

Jenna: You’re simply a factory of good pitches, and I don’t know how you do it. I think more people from home texted me about the sex toy story than any other Hatchet article since I’ve been here. You helped make every culture and editorial board meeting a joy, which I suppose makes up for your harassment of my strong editorial decisions with inappropriate memes. I wish I could’ve worked with you longer.

Luke: Your kindness, responsibility, and respect stick with me to this day. I miss you.

Sandra: Thanks for being my sports editor. I can only imagine how hard it was to assume the role, but you did well. Your infectious energy helped me through the weeks, as did your excitement to tackle the big stories head-on. More stories will come down the pike. Bring them on.

Ben: I first met you on that trip to Wilmington, and I could tell then that you had the juice. You’ve grown a lot over this past year, especially as a leader. I loved working on the bigger stories with you this year—the spark in your eye when you found something you wanted to dig into always excited me, and that spark is all you need to become a great journalist. You stepped into a job at a hard time and I was always proud to have you on the team—good job.

Rory Quealy: I think the first time I really got to know you was when you came in on a tense day to fact-check an investigation last year. I’ve always been curious about what that looked like from your eyes: the arguments, edits, phone calls, disagreements, exhaustion. I like to think you learned a lot just by being there, via osmosis. Anyway, you saved our ass there, so thank you. Since then, you took a hard, undervalued beat and consistently put out smart and under-the-radar articles that you can be proud of. Take care of Metro, it’s my baby.

Hannah Marr: You locked in when we needed you. SGA Guide is unlike anything else we make at this paper, the demands are unceasing and you handled it with poise. Lock into admin now—there’s a lot to get to the bottom of.

Fiona Bork: Student Life would have been a hard beat for anyone this year—your professionalism throughout the year made for some great journalism when GW needed it most.

Jennifer: It takes courage for an assistant news editor to approach a top editor and critique or ask hard questions. Thankfully, you’re laden with courage. Your courage proved itself when you asked the hard questions, both to your sources and to me. While you’ve obviously grown as a journalist and reporter since I met you during your first week here, your ability to keep the pressure on is remarkable. Keep it pushing.

Cade: You did some good event coverage this year, and you always brought a cool, smart energy to the townhouse. I hope you’ll sell some good ads. Text Jaden or I if anything goes awry.

Max Porter: Metro is hard, but I was always excited to see you tackle tough stories like a veteran. Can’t wait to see what you cook up with Lizzie.

Auden: I know it’s not easy managing a group as eclectic as our photography staff, but you did it well and without complaint. I mention to Sage below that we have one of the better student photog staffs in the country—that couldn’t be true without you holding a steady ship for us. You’re so sharp and joyful, it’s been such a pleasure to count you as a friend. Reading your 30 last month also made me wish you had written for us, too. Thank you for the help on Campaigns and Elections, thanks for pushing for the crossword with Isabella, and sorry for not going to a Greek Club event.

Sage: You’ve got talent, kid. News photographs from the past year—especially the past four weeks—have been sober, beautiful, scary, and vital. Your leadership was a big reason for that. The Hatchet has maybe the best photography staff of any student paper in the country right now. But don’t forget that you’re an advocate for all of the photographers now. Build the team, cultivate talent, and make The Hatchet a place for anyone to learn and showcase their work. You’ve got this.

Jordan, Jordyn, and Florence: It was nice having you on the team, even if I was never quite sure what any of you would have to say. You’ve each taught me so much about photography as a skill and a profession, so keep with it.

Lily: I wish we could’ve worked together longer, but I don’t blame you for taking a step back. You’re talented, and thank you for the photos.

Ethan Valliath: Clutch. More than anyone else, you’re responsible for developing our online identity, and it’s been so fun to watch you cook. Sorry for all the times we didn’t send a caption back.

Max Gaffin and Anaya: Thank you for all the times you were proactive with stories and tweets and for rounding out our strong social team. Our presence has grown so much in just a couple of years, and it would’ve been impossible with you.

Isabella and Maura: I’m always impressed when people can turn my borderline-unintelligible ideas into something actually worth publishing, and you both did so on a weekly basis. There are few things more pleasing than making a paper that’s just damn beautiful, and we had some stunners this volume—even the ones with Nick’s fancy stacking. Apologies for all the times I screwed up InDesign during read-through, and thank you for the good layouts.

Abby and Anusha: Thanks for helping us make the paper this semester. It was fun having you in the townhouse (especially another Trivedi!) and I hope you learned a lot. Don’t be afraid to let your designs rip—ask forgiveness instead of permission.

An: You had a big role to fill, too, and you grew into it well. Your insistence on getting every graphic just right—both in terms of aesthetics and information—is a testament to your drive to help us tell stories the best we can.

Cristina: Your unrelenting advocacy for members of your team has served us well—keep that up. You had to step into big shoes when Jaden moved up, and you somehow managed to make the shoes even bigger.

Shea, Lindsay, and Carly: Thanks for keeping our copy clean. It’s a hard job with lots to remember, so thank you for keeping us in check.

Annie: I never knew what to expect when I opened your drafts every Tuesday. I felt equal parts intrigue and fear for the pop-culture-based advice my eyes would find. Still, you accomplished something that’s not been done at this paper in a long time (and was desperately needed): You turned your distinct writing voice into an invaluable section of the paper. The fact that you did it through sheer willpower is a testament to your drive and ardor. Stay locked in. You’ll do great.

Anna, Brooke, and Dylan: Thanks for holding down the fort. You performed an immensely underappreciated job during a difficult year, and you did so thoroughly, even during the latest of nights. I am so proud to have you on my team, and I know you’ll do well next year.

Nikki: Your care for teammates comes in spades, and that same passion will be necessary next year. Reach out to people, and make sure everyone does smart work.

Lizzie: Your skill in finding a lane outside of what the news team was working on shows your intelligence and drive—you’re a great host, keep thinking of good stories to tell.

Nicholas, Ava, Eduardo, and Sophia: Video is hard, I do not understand how you all do it. Yet, you all do it well. Your fresh ideas kept me motivated, and both the breaking news and feature videos highlight D.C. in a way that other sections should embrace.

To prior volumes:

Lia: My first editor, and the reason I joined staff in the first place. Thanks for poking me to join. Over the past year I’ve realized how much of a pain in the ass I must have been, so apologies for that. Your toughness helped me grow more than I realized, and I get it a bit more now. You helped set the stage for The Hatchet post-COVID, which I’m sure was more difficult than most people realize. It’s bizarre thinking back to health and science meetings just a few years ago, and all that’s happened since. Thanks for helping set me on that path.

Jared: My grandSNE. Your role not just as an editor but as a Hatchet historian and leader helped me learn a lot of what The Hatchet was about beyond the articles and news. I wish I could’ve spent more time working with you.

Zach: A force of nature, a fellow Zach. Your encyclopedic knowledge of the University and its actors and machinations gave me a target to aim for. I never quite came close, but the chase still helped in its various ways. It’s no surprise you’ve been killing the reporting since then.

Lauren: You always sort of seemed like a grandma to the news team, in the best way possible. I was always so thankful for your check-ins, and I hope we all supported you during the hell of SA guide. But, given the baby sensory videos, probably not.

Abby Kennedy: You got out, and I’m proud of you. The Volume 118 news team was a bizarre moment in time, and I’m glad we got to work together on it.

Núria: You really held down sports. Your hard work in cultivating reporters paid off—the section is looking stronger than it has for years, a testament to your hard work and loyalty. I can’t wait to see what you do now, and I wish you luck.

Tara: You were one of the first people I ever met at GW, and you were a good friend the whole time. I never knew what to expect whenever we conversed, but the surprise was a lot of the fun. Thanks for being there for me.

Caitlin and Eóighan: You both took a beat I sometimes have a hard time understanding and made smart journalism. Your help in welcoming and training reporters has already paid dividends for the newspaper. I wish you both could have written more, but you made the paper a better place nonetheless.

Sophia Goedert: Health and research legend. A consistent, nose-to-the-grindstone reporter, I was proud to have the chance to edit you, especially seeing you improve throughout the year.

Danielle and Rachel: You both had a hard job, we put you through hell, and you both rocked it anyway. Thanks for being there anytime a firetruck showed up and for building the post-COVID tradition of excellent Hatchet photojournalism.

To Volume 121: You all joined the team in one of the most difficult moments possible, and did so with poise and strength. I wish I could’ve worked with you more, but don’t worry: I’ll be keeping a close eye. Good luck.

To people who helped along the way:

Kirk, Hannah, and everyone else at National Journal: Internships don’t typically make it to 30s, but it wouldn’t be right to leave you all out. Kirk, I’ve constantly returned to your reminder that taking one’s time is sometimes the best option. The editorial skills I learned at Hotline more than paid off at The Hatchet—thanks for having me on the team.

Professor Roberts: Thanks for helping us when we needed it most. Whether you helped us make big decisions or simply affirmed what we were already planning to do, you helped grow my journalistic sense throughout the year.

The Board of Directors: Thanks for helping us stay level-headed through the year. It was an odd one, and the oddity will continue, but I’m glad Grace has a strong support system to get her through it.

Henry Long and Emmanuelle: F1 was a passion I could never overlap with The Hatchet, so I cherish the time doing Pit Lane Radio. Thank you.

Henry and Abby: Henry, it feels more appropriate to address you as a friend rather than an editor. I think I’ve known both of you longer than anyone else at GW. Thanks for sticking by my side through these long years, and thanks for all the movie talk.

To my family:

Olivia: The next Revolutionary! Thank you for being one of my most loyal readers and always asking questions about The Hatchet and everything else that’s going on, it means a lot. Consider joining The Hatchet—I can pull a few strings.

Mom and Dad: Thanks for giving me the support in chasing this dream I only learned I had a couple of years ago. I love you both.


More to Discover
About the Contributor
Zach Blackburn, Editor in Chief
Zach, a senior majoring in political communication, is the 2023-24 editor in chief of The Hatchet. He previously served as senior news editor and assistant news editor of the Metro beat. He hails from West Columbia, South Carolina.
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