Justin Guiffre: Moments worth living

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches – “30” was historically used to signify the end of a story – to reflect on their time at The Hatchet, published in the final issues of the year.

This too shall pass. I’ve thought about this for a long time. I don’t know where to begin. How can you write 1,200 words attempting to convey an experience so visceral and so transcendent? How can you not?

A few weeks ago I read a sentence in a Kurt Vonnegut novel, claiming to be descendent from a series of Asian wise men. The task was to write a phrase that would always be true. No matter the situation. It read, “This too shall pass.” Good, bad, lost, in love, angry or ecstatic, this is undeniably truthful.

I like to think of my time at The Hatchet and GW as something made meaningful by this law of the universe. A finite experience even more important because of that looming deadline with lots of deadlines in between. The most tragic and beautiful realization is that a canvas has an end. This painting, no matter how much there is to paint, will stop.

I began my time at GW and the paper almost simultaneously. Fresh off the boat from Japan, I had no idea what was to come. Wandering through a student org fair, I came across the Hatchet table. I knew I wanted to write columns. That’s how I met my long-time editor, Diana. She would later hire me as staff, an act of kindness and a compliment I can only adequately thank with the knowledge that she knows the feeling.

A good opinions journalist has to have an ego to match. Let me explain. You have to be so damn sure that what you’re saying is important enough that a ton of people should hear it. You should feel like you can save the world. There is a reason that Superman and Spiderman are both journalists. But an ops journalist is Clark Kent with a cheap glass of whisky and a half-smoked pack of cigarettes. You’re James Dean with a typewriter and a willingness to put your mind and soul to print.

Then it came time to sit on the editorial board. Even when the sports editor is free associating, it’s amazing to be in a room of people willing to be passionate about Student Association endorsements and alcohol amnesty policy in the same heartbeat. Thank you to everybody who has ever been in that room with me.

When I became the opinions editor, it was enthralling. To be in charge of a group of rowdy, passionate writers is something else. To help them develop as writers is unimaginably fulfilling. When I started, I told Byers I wouldn’t do the job unless he could go to bed a little afraid of what we printed on my page. He smiled and agreed to open a can of worms he never anticipated. If I ever had success in that role, it was because of the confidence he put in my capabilities.

I wasn’t alone in this. I had the amazing honor of having Lyndsey as my contributing editor. She’s a woman whose passion is only understandable when she gives off the tiniest look of contemplation, then writes the hell out of something. There’s a reason I chose her to edit my work, and I’ve never regretted it. I couldn’t have been happier when you chose to hire Annu, a person so rabidly idealistic and capable that I can’t begin to imagine where she will go in life, but I know she’ll find purpose in all of it.

Each year, graduating editors are given 30 final column inches - called 30 pieces - to reflect on their time at The Hatchet. Browse all.

As managing director, I got to be the person at the table telling freshmen why they should get involved – part of that weird college cycle where you quickly fill the role you never thought you could. I also kept alive a tradition that I hope never dies. Every Sunday during staff meetings we put somebody in the “hot seat” and asked people questions they must answer truthfully in front of everybody. The first time this happened, Hadas asked me to look around the room and name the qualities displayed by staff members that I wish I had. It was a tough fucking question.

People who are drawn to work for the paper are categorically impressive. These are the individuals irrevocably gripped by the events around them and irresistibly moved to be an important part of them.

I didn’t realize the people in the townhouse would come to be some of my best friends. This is when I met Tim and Erica, two people I admire every second of the day, who could never be anything but a constant presence in my life. Chris, Rachel, Anna, Anne, Caroline, Louis and Dan (among many others) are the people that made every late night and Hatchet party worth remembering, in addition to all of the times we hung out away from the townhouse. I will always be floored by the dedication of Emily. I will always be in awe of the passion of French.

Of course, there were those around me that meant a lot who didn’t work on the paper these past few years. To Adam, Brandon, Dave, Kirsten, Arun, Carly, Mansi, Kieran, Joe, Ben and Tyler (among many others), thanks for reminding me that life is about so much more than just words on paper. To Sarah, thanks for being my fan and so much more – if I could go back, I would change everything and nothing at the same time, I hope you understand. To my family, and especially to my parents, thank you for every moment of support, I couldn’t have done any of it without you.

I would always tell my writers that inspiration comes in the moments we don’t expect. Walking down the street, just before we fall asleep or eating lunch in J Street, we will be gripped by an overwhelming sense of purpose and clarity. It’s like that for life in general. Hold onto those moments, even when they hurt. Let your mind drift in that momentum. I, like a good number of my peers, came to this school to understand the massive social and political machinations that drive our lives. Don’t forget that those are only the means to an end. Their success, and ours, is measured only in the moments we make worth living. In many ways, The Hatchet taught me that these are what truly matter.

Despondent and worried about my future, as seniors in general are at this point, a friend of mine said something odd. They commented, “You must be so excited.” Are you kidding?! I was afraid. Student debt, getting a job with benefits, where I’m living?! The list goes on. So I decided to decipher this cryptic message. What is exciting about it?

Here’s the conclusion I came to: For the first time, I will wake up this summer and actually be able to determine what comes next. Some research job, bartending, starting at a major firm, working as a tour guide, moving to San Francisco and spending my time on some art portfolio, going to grad school, law school – it is really up to me. They like to tell you that your undergraduate career will be the first time you get to really determine your life. And there is some measure of truth to that. But it’s nothing like what comes next. Be excited for that moment.

A good trick for column writing is to begin and end with the same catch – something that will tie it all together for the reader. It would make things easier at this point to say that The Hatchet and college have the same principle, but they don’t. It is a wild, fun, unforgettable, emotional, heart-wrenching and transformative experience that leaves you with as many questions about where and who you are as when you started. It’s made meaningful because you only have so much of it, and when the canvas ends you’re left enchanted by that beautiful realization. Remember, this too shall pass. -30-

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