Diana Kugel: Rising above right versus wrong

As a columnist, it is fairly clear that I have few qualms about letting anyone and everyone who picks up a copy of The Hatchet know what I think. It is rather exhilarating to know that through the power of the written word, it is possible to let a good portion of the student body of GW know my opinion about a given issue. But at the same time, my position has been a humbling experience this year.

In high school, people couldn’t care less about the school newspaper or who wrote what about whom in it. Therefore, it was a bit of a culture shock to find that at GW, an extraordinary amount of people travel with a copy of The Hatchet on Mondays and Thursdays – even if it is only for the Sudoku. What was even more surprising was how students actually perused the articles and columns before attacking the crossword puzzle. But the most shocking part of all was how much people actually cared.

Within hours of my very first column being printed way back in September, I had received not only several Facebook messages from students (thankfully positive that time), but also an e-mail from President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg himself asking me to justify my views. After getting over the initial shock of the situation, I drafted my response explaining my position.

At GW, I learned that if you are going to write something for the public to read, you better be sure that you really mean it and are willing to stand up for your words. Talk may be cheap, but the printed word is anything but. Indeed, the students and faculty of GW are not hesitant to call you out on mistakes and misperceptions.

I am also more aware of the responsibility that comes with putting my opinions on paper; if I want people to care about what I say, I have to say things worth caring about. It is not sufficient to simply point out the obvious imperfections of GW. If you are going to take up even a minute of someone’s time with something that you print, it should at least bring a new perspective to the issue. Also, the phrase, “If I’m paying $50,000 a year to be here … ,” while an important point, is not the be-all and end-all of every argument.

Although it is important to believe in what you write, at the same time, you have to be able to admit when you made a mistake or if you were too quick to judge. Most young adults like to believe that their opinions are correct, and will forever remain so. However, this year I was fortunate enough to learn that this is not always the case.

Looking back my earlier columns, I can see the clearly naive voice of a college freshman making bold statements that with even only a few months of extra perspective under my belt, I may be more hesitant to make today. It is never fun admitting that you were wrong, but it is a much more fatal downfall to insist on holding opinions that are no longer valid.

If I come away with one thing from my experiences this year, it is that it takes a bigger person to change their opinion than to stubbornly hold on to something they no longer really agree with.

We are seeing this more and more in the political realm, with young people choosing a political party and insisting on adhering to that party’s ideology, even when the individual actually disagrees with the party’s stance on a particular issue. Nothing is sadder than when we are willing to compromise what we truly believe in order to simply remain “right.”

Although President Trachtenberg’s decision to step down as keynote speaker for Commencement and his reasoning for doing so is extremely controversial right now, I can’t help but admire him for taking into account students’ original displeasure and doing at least something about it.

Each and every student at GW comes from a unique background full of experiences distinctive to that individual. If we open our minds, the most important things that we learn at GW may take place far away from the classroom. But this only works if we can forget about being right or wrong and simply focus on learning as much as we can from each other.

-The writer, a freshman majoring in psychology, is Hatchet contributing opinions editor.

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