David Ceasar: Splicing commas and growing up

We often do sexy things at The Hatchet. Photographers shoot girls mud wrestling and buildings burning. Reporters run up to police tape and nearly get arrested at riots. Features editors even put together an entire issue devoted to sex in the spring.

Commas, on the other hand, are not sexy.

But I must have seen something in them, because it wasn’t the glitz and glam of being a credentialed, hotshot D.C. journalist that first drew me to this publication, but rather a nerdy appreciation for mechanics, syntax and style.

When I got to CI and was touring the scores of organizations at the student activity fair, I first chanced upon The GW Hatchet. Tucked away on the edge of a room on the third floor of the Marvin Center was a table with a clipboard. I don’t recall who was manning this table, but that’s neither here nor there. I wrote that I had an interest in copy editing on a sign-up sheet, and magically four months later I got an e-mail that they were hiring.

I was ecstatic. I ran to Gelman and borrowed the AP Style Book, my new Bible (or, more appropriately, Torah). After beating out some stiff competition in an editing test and interview, I got the phone call. I would be the youngest paid editor on staff, and I would work hard for this opportunity.

The loss of sleep, time for friends and time for schoolwork has been a staple of my time at The Hatchet, as it is for anyone else here who shows any dedication for the product we put out. We all care so much about what we do, perhaps in excess at times.

Some of us have a holier-than-thou attitude that we are single-handedly the most important student organization and group of adults on campus. We are a prideful bunch. Yet, when we inform our readership of information they otherwise wouldn’t get, were it not for our reporting, then we have done our job. When we break important news or print a persuasive editorial that makes administrators think twice, then we have fulfilled our duty.

It’s more than writing and editing that we learn about at The Hatchet. My greatest take-away isn’t anything I can show on paper or enter into a contest. The past five years for me here have truly been a journey of self-discovery.

I have learned more about professionalism here than any internship could have taught me, namely by knowing what not to do. We have role models, I guess, if drinking, smoking, cursing and over-eating are traits to emulate. But when it comes to serious matters, our leaders have stepped it up.

A formative experience for me was the weekend of Feb. 7-8, 2004 when our warm and talented production manager, Jenny Dierdorff, took her own life. I was reporting on my very first news story the night before I learned of this tragedy. When I was called into the office Saturday morning, I was sure that I was in trouble for something. Maybe I was too aggressive in my reporting at the athlete date auction?

Two editors sat me down, telling me the news of Jenny’s death, and the next 48 hours were simultaneously the most heart-wrenching and most inspiring times in my life. After a session with the University Counseling Center, a group trip to a men’s basketball game and the support of administrators, we mustered enough strength to produce an issue the following day. It took courage, but we all knew we had a job to do.

We’re a team – a big family. We’re journalists, and reporting what’s newsworthy to our readers is our uncompromising mission – even when the hard times come knocking on our door.

Copy editing that issue was understandably a challenge. Being the grammar stickler didn’t seem so important in the grand scheme of things. I realized that the larger goal of the paper went well beyond its writing.

We have a purpose on campus, and hopefully we leave a lasting impact, but we also have a profound effect on one another. Many budding journalists learn to check their egos at the door of our townhouse, as the editing process can be cruel. Thick skin grows quickly here. And even the more seasoned staff members should never expect anything to come easy here.

Respect is a scarce commodity, even after paying your dues. It has been challenging for me to be the longest-serving editor for a couple years, while working “under” two editors my junior. The power dynamics have made life miserable for me at times, but it’s helped me grow as a person and a leader in my own right.

It’s this sense of maturity that I think trumps all the other treasures The Hatchet has given me. I’ve narrowly avoided arrest at Gallaudet, I’ve sneaked into an elevator with Jamie Foxx to get one last question in and I’ve even been accused of rummaging through administrators’ trash cans in Rice Hall.

In the end, none of this sexy side of journalism comes close to what really can happen over five years: self-growth.

There are all too many requisite thanks you’s over the course of five years, so no hard feelings if you ended up on the cutting room floor:

Jake, you’re legitimately one of the most motivated and gifted journalists to come out of this publication in the half-decade I’ve been here, and well beyond. Roper, you’re one of the most aggressive reporters I’ve had the privilege of working with, and I do not regret the six-hour-long editing sessions we’d have on Saturdays.

Jess, you’re a talented reporter and editor, and I hope you don’t become a flack. Ramonas and News of this year and next, be aggressive but fair; make me proud! To my favorite hire at the paper, Claire, you’re one of the sharpest people to work here and I hope ours staff-eds show that next year. Joanna, I await seeing you talking about sports I don’t care about on TV one day. Tim, make some time for Tim or you’ll explode and be unable to live up to the high expectations I have for you. Nacin, write shorter e-mails.

My fearless leader in the business office, Howie, deserves plaudits for putting up with me for nearly my whole tenure here.

Butler, you’re out of your mind, but so am I, and that’s probably how we made a great team last year. As the only person I ever had any managerial authority over, Kojo was a great sport for the year-long experiment in me being someone’s boss. Leah was almost an underling of mine, but Caitlin wouldn’t let me hire you; I thought you were good enough. Ben, live for yourself and what you’re passionate about, and don’t worry if newspapers won’t be here a decade from now.

Barnett, I appreciate your letting me have my finger in every hole at the paper. Mosheh and Janice took a chance by hiring an awkward first-semester freshman, and Costa took an even greater one by putting me in charge of a department I knew little about. Julie and Lizz gave me my first taste of news many moons ago, despite incoherent writing.

To Alex, Chris, Erin, Jackie, Jordan, Nathan and so many others close to me over the years, my deepest regrets for being pulled away from fun times because of The Hatchet. Mom, Dad and Holly, I love you so much and appreciate your respect for my work. Thanks for not minding when I didn’t pick up when you called or for not telling me to re-focus my time on classes or internships when I’ve spent thousands of hours here.

It’s been well worth it.

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-David Ceasar has held nearly every title at this publication: senior editor, senior news editor, contributing news editor, web editor, copy editor, news reporter, columnist and exclusively in today’s issue, photographer. He began splicing commas for The Hatchet in November 2003.

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