Dear President Trachtenberg, I hope this letter finds you well. I hope you’re enjoying your last semester at GW as much as I am. At the very least, it seems that your post-graduation plans are in slightly better order than mine. Anyway, as your book, titled “Write Me a Letter! The Wit and Wisdom of Stephen Joel Trachtenberg,” suggests, I’m writing you a letter!
Your book has been prominently displayed at the bookstore of late – students might recognize it as the one with a cartoon image of you, Buddha-like, atop a mountain peak extending your arm in greeting to a traveler seeking enlightenment. Inside is a collection of your letters, accompanied with those gosh-darn New Yorker cartoons.
I’ll start by saying that I’ve always admired your seemed self-awareness, warmth and sense of humor. It shows in the book – the letters seem sincere and are peppered with wit. At each salutation one can’t help but imagine you signing off, “Sincerely, Steve,” along with a kindly wink.
If I had to guess, one potential audience for this book would be GW parents – I feel as if my mom might get a kick out of it – which leads me to question some of the editorial decision-making regarding the cartoons.
In one letter you appear to address one parent’s concern with GW’s tuition by relating your own family’s story of sacrifice to provide you with an Ivy-league education, as well as your experience with your own children. “I know what you mean when you talk about the tuition checks taking your breath away,” you write emphatically.
On the opposite page is a cartoon with a recent college graduate donning his cap and gown, diploma in hand. He is flanked by his parents, who are wearing wooden barrels, and the joke is that they couldn’t afford anything else after sending their child to school. It’s funny, for a small moment, and then you realize that GW actually is the most expensive undergraduate education money can buy.
In another letter you address a young man who has chosen to matriculate at Syracuse University instead of GW. His rationale is unclear, but your letter remains kind and encouraging. The accompanying gag on the other side? A high school guidance counselor’s office, and the caption reads, “My first choice college should have lots of closet space.”
It’s funny, because nobody would ever make this decision based on such superficial criteria, right? Well, this is GW. We make the Princeton Review’s list of “Dorms Like Palaces,” but we’re nowhere to be seen on any of the academic lists.
This is a sign, as I’m sure you’re aware, that it is time for you to step down. The places you’ve taken this University have been beyond comparison, but it’s refreshing to see that the new president probably has an eye toward investing more in academics and less in infrastructure.
The class of 2007 is eagerly awaiting a bittersweet commencement on the National Mall this May, as I’m sure you are. But while the students and our families are awaiting this momentous occasion, there are some disconcerting rumors spreading. One that comes to mind is that our keynote speaker at Commencement will be none other than you.
“Of course SJT will be speaking at Commencement!” is the common reaction. “And who else?”
Indeed, who else? This is not only on the minds of our students, but will likely be on the minds of our parents as May 20 approaches. It will surely linger in the minds of the class of 2007 when we’re cutting checks down the road. Last year, the Bushes set a high bar. It’s time to try to beat that.
Earlier I spoke of you as self-aware, but if I wanted to be less polite I might call behavior like this – books with your face on the cover and constant globetrotting – self-aggrandizing.
I speak, of course, tongue firmly in cheek. But I’m telling you this because I like you. I’ve never met you personally, but when working as an usher at Lisner Auditorium, you never failed to give me a wink, a nod and a “How’s it goin’?”
Be careful with your legacy, Steve.
Sincerely, Andrew Siddons
-The writer, a senior majoring in anthropology and international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.