Departing Staffer: Zach Ahmad: Curtain’s up

Welcome to the Zach Ahmad Show.

Every year The Hatchet gives departing editors and apparently the occasional staff writer a little less than a page to say whatever happens to be on their minds. The practice is inherently self-indulgent, typically boring and never as clever as the writers would like to think. It’s basically an exercise in narcissism that holds no interest to anyone beyond the author himself.

So now it’s my turn. I’ve been given 30 column inches to say whatever I damn well please and I’m taking it. As I’ve by now all but memorized, that’s 6,300 characters – with spaces – and I’m using every one of them. Hell, I may even merge words together arbitrarily to fitinallthatIcan.

It would be both disingenuous and futile to try to fill this space with something relevant. No, this piece is all about me – me, me, me, me, me – and I’m not about to pretend otherwise. I feel like a high school sophomore. I’m telling it how it is – getting totally in your face – with hopes that any future employer who Googles me has a sense of humor.

Seriously though, I’ll try to make this mostly painless. I’ll make only the obligatory shout outs – Mom, Erin – avoid use of the word “special” and try not to sound like that blowhard from your sociology class. I’ll just talk frankly about my time here at GW. That’s roughly 18 percent of my life, to put a figure on it, because a certain editor once told me I’m really good with numbers. Dick.

I remember the day I chose to come to GW like it was four years ago. I had whittled my options down to here and the University of Colorado at Boulder, two schools that I would find out are even further apart culturally than geographically. Boulder was in-state, eclectic and just very college-like. GW was still kind of foreign to me, but I needed a change of scenery, and at the time Washington seemed to be the answer.

Maybe not. Used to the bongs-and-Birkenstocks image of college life, I arrived to a campus full of mini Al Gores who cared only about their own careers and spoiled New England bluebloods who didn’t really care about anything. GW is far from the Ivy League, yet it somehow seems to give off the same air of snobbery, minus the intellect to back it up.

Then there was me, an awkward slacker from Colorado who managed to sneak into this prep school junkyard through good test scores and geographic affirmative action. I had no tolerance for this particularly unwarranted brand of elitism. The red states have issues, but the Northeastern Seaboard that GW feeds off might be the most culturally isolated place on the planet. I didn’t really feel like accommodating that.

But still, I was here. It had taken a bit of cajoling myself to transplant my life clear across the country and transferring would have felt like giving up. Plus, I figured I could have fun with it. I had neither the will nor the energy to assimilate with these East Coast high-hats, but I could observe their habits first-hand, mock them quietly and perhaps take something away from the experience.

And I shouldn’t be so negative. Despite the damning portrait I’ve just painted, things at GW really didn’t turn out that bad. Very good even. Worth $160,000? No, but that’s moot now. In the end, GW did offer what I think I came here to get, and that’s really all I can ask for.

Academically, I’m convinced I got the same quality of education as I would have most anywhere. Any honest assessment of the college experience recognizes that it’s mostly jumping through hoops while waiting for those few stray professors who can actually excite your curiosity. There are some very good teachers at GW, and I feel like I’ve been served well enough.

I’ve also gotten a lot out of being in Washington. GW gets plenty of criticism for focusing too much on the out-of-classroom experience, but without that, it would be like any other mediocre private university. The chance to engage in the political system of the world’s most powerful country when you’re barely old enough to vote is what makes the school unique, and I see no shame in that.

At the risk of mimicking an admissions brochure, GW has given me the chance to attend a presidential inauguration, cover or participate in massive antiwar rallies and hold internships that have taken me to the Supreme Court and the Rose Garden of the White House. I consider that a more meaningful education than I could have found in a textbook.

Lastly, I’ve spent a fair amount of time over the past four years writing for this paper. At times it was a thankless pain in the ass, playing phone tag with people who didn’t care to talk to me to write drab copy for editors that didn’t want to hear it. Yet at other times – particularly toward the end – it was the best outlet a writer could have. I had the freedom to write the kind of stories I may not have a chance to get published for years.

On that note, while I promised not get lost in personal acknowledgments, it would be rude of me not to thank the many editors I’ve had over the years. That gratitude isn’t hollow. I realize it takes a lot of patience to put up with my frustrating blend of clumsiness, wavering apathy and ADHD. You all dealt with it for far longer than you had to, and that says something.

So now what? I’m graduating in three weeks, and the campus I’ve called home for four years will be a thing of my past. To take a cue from The Strokes, I want to be forgotten, and I don’t want to be reminded. I’ve come to appreciate GW for what it is, but now it’s time to return to the real world before I forget it exists.

What that means exactly, I’m not yet sure. The end is less than a month away and I have no idea where I’ll be afterwards. That should probably scare the hell out of me, but it actually feels refreshing in a fatalistic, Lester Burnham kind of way. Besides, the Magic 8 Ball on my desk has only good things to say right now. I put great faith in that.

So that’s it folks. I’ve had my say and you’ve had your fill. Thanks for reading this far. I only wish I had some kind of novel advice to give. Lacking that, I’ll just wish you all a nice day and let you get back to studying for finals. I’m glad I could offer a brief distraction.

I’m out.


-The writer has been a Hatchet reporter since October 2002. He’s written more than 100 articles over four years.

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