Departing Staffer: Will Dempster: Looking back and moving forward

In the very back of my high school yearbook, nestled near the bottom left corner, is a short token of wisdom from my favorite history teacher.

“Hey Will,” he wrote. “Four year’s tuition is too much to waste on beer and anonymity.”

If I could pen him a response at the near conclusion of my collegiate career I would say:

“Hey Fenster, thanks for the advice, but the beer was great.”

The four years I spent writing for the Hatchet afforded me a unique opportunity to heed my teacher’s call. At virtually any moment I had about 700 words to write on any topic I chose. Sometimes I got it right; frequently, I did not. But I’ve got one more chance to try, so bear with me; I have a bit more to say.

Despite having nearly three years to plan my final retrospective in The Hatchet, before a phone conversation with a former Hatchet editor in chief Monday night, I had no idea what to write. Somewhere in the middle of a discussion on Iran’s nuclear ambitions and our respective futures, it hit me.

GW students, like the University itself, are going places.

Teetering on the edge of becoming an elite institution, GW doesn’t get many prototypical Ivy League students with straight A’s and perfect SAT scores coming out of high school. Thank God.

Instead of the perfect student, GW gets well-rounded ones. The average kid at GW spent more time in high school involved in extra-curricular activities than studying. He or she did just enough work to get the B+ or A- in a class and did well enough on his or her SATs to get into a quality school. He or she was drawn to Washington, D.C., because of its resources, and realized that while GW was no Harvard, venturing into the city would fill the gaps in his or her education.

Once here, these kids blossomed. Some got internships on Capitol Hill. Others played jazz at clubs around the city. Others immersed themselves in national issues and became well-known activists. Others got involved in student government. Others still decided to write for The Hatchet. And upon graduation, these kids aren’t just mired in first-job-after-college mediocrity; they land meaningful positions in the halls of power.

From my perch on The Hatchet’s editorial page, I have been fortunate to come across many of these people. I interacted with people like Mosheh Oinounou and Josh Riezman, my mentors at The Hatchet who taught me how to think critically and express myself in writing, and whom I expect to read about in the future.

I interacted with people like Omar Woodard, who, despite his involvement in the most meaningless student organization on campus, I would be happy to work for or with in his political future political endeavors.

I interacted with people like Michael Barnett, Jeff Baum, Sam Sherraden, Kyle Spector and Jake Sherman, whose respective journalistic talents should take them to the pages of The Washington Post or The New York Times one day.

I interacted with people like David and Jonathan Kantor, musical prodigies – and even better friends – whom I hope will invite my family and me backstage when they are famous.

Twenty years down the line, I fully expect to come back for Colonials Weekend and ask “what happened here?” GW is on the precipice of joining the nation’s elite research universities. It has a strategic plan for academic excellence and a 20-year development plan to help fulfill it. In my estimation, no university in the country has the potential to make such a drastic move upward. I just wish it hadn’t cost my parents so much to send me here.

One guy whom I have not always given appropriate credit for his work at GW is Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Somehow he found time to respond to all of my – sometimes whiny, other times indignant and frequently rambling – letters. It is too bad successive generations of GW students won’t have the opportunity to interact with him after his retirement next year. Let’s hope GW’s next president reads The Hatchet and cares about what it says half as much as he does. Trachtenberg once told me that he wanted to learn Spanish in his retirement, so good luck with that, SJT.

I suppose it is appropriate to reflect a bit on the institution for which I am writing this rant. The campus newspaper is an important institution on any college campus. And while I remember reading the Hatchet on my first visit to campus, I had no idea of its rich tradition. Working for such a prestigious institution has not always been easy, but being a part of it has been immensely valuable.

I never expected to sit courtside at the NCAA tournament and physically run into Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski in the hallway of the Greensboro Colliseum. I never imagined sitting in the dugout at Camden Yards interviewing the manager of the Orioles, 10 feet from former American League MVP Miguel Tejada. And I sure as hell never expected that an endorsement I would write for then-presidential candidate John Edwards would end up featured on his campaign Web site.

The Hatchet also taught me a number of important life lessons. It taught me to be humble – or to try harder to be, at least. It taught me how to constructively channel criticism from my peers or from letters to the editor and learn something from it. Mercifully, it also taught me how to write. I hope next year’s editors and those who follow them appreciate it as much as I have – and not just for the free printing and copying.

So this is it, I guess – my last chance to say something witty, meaningful and insightful. Stunningly, I find myself speechless. How am I supposed to wrap it all up in so few words? I’m off to Jerusalem for the next few years. I hope to learn as much about the world, about myself and about life there as I did here.

And to my friends, my parents, my professors, my mentors, my adversaries and my inspirations, I have only one thing left to say.

Thanks. I mean it.


-The writer has been a columnist since September 2002 and an editor since January 2004. He has written more than 100 columns, staff editorials and sports stories.

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