Justin Peligri: Searching for a memoir title

Media Credit: Samuel Klein | Senior Photo Editor

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.

Updated: April 27, 2015 at 11:08 a.m.

One of my favorite things to do is play the “a memoir” game. If you know me, you already know how to play.

It goes like this: First, while engaging in conversation, you casually state a word or phrase. Then, you follow it up with “a memoir” – signifying that what you just said epitomizes your life so much so that it merits being the title of a book about yourself.

The reason I love this game is because I’m obsessed with the idea of writing down my personal story – no matter how mundane and completely inconsequential my 21 years have been thus far.

And in general, I’ve always wanted to be a writer. So that’s why at the beginning of my freshman year, I applied to work at The Hatchet. I figured it would be a good chance to snag a few bylines, knowing I’d enjoy seeing my name – and later, my headshot – in print.

I went to the org fair at summer orientation, added my name to the listserv and stopped by the townhouse shortly after settling into my room in Thurston Hall.

Now, If you’ve ever read a Hatchet departing monologue, then you know how the story goes. Student joins organization. Student makes friends and memories. Student, upon graduation, realizes the value of said organization beyond what he could have initially imagined or anticipated.

I am one of the thousands of people over The Hatchet’s one hundred and eleven volumes to whom this pattern pertains. But at the start of my college career I wasn’t so sure that would be the case.

Since we already know how the story ends, here’s the spoiler: The 2140 G St. townhouse would eventually become my favorite place on campus. I’d spend Wednesday and Sunday nights screaming at the desktop computers when InDesign was being stubborn. I would stake a claim on the window ledge in the editor’s office as my perch for editorial board meetings. My face – attached to a cutout of a bird – would be taped to the wall with the other editors, each depicted as a different animal.

But that first afternoon, I was still awkward and uncomfortable. Thank goodness the first person I met when I stepped through the door was Priya, a news editor at the time who, a year later, would become our editor in chief. You hit the nail on the head a few months ago: “I feel like I just always make you nervous.” That’s true, but you also made me feel like The Hatchet could be my home.

What current staffers might not know about me is that before I became the wild opinions-spouting bloviator that I am today, my first gig at The Hatchet was as a news reporter. (Correction: I’ve always been a wild opinion-spouting bloviator.)

Sarah, I’m still laughing that you spelled my name in my first byline wrong. Honestly, I was just glad to land my first (and last) Hatchet front-page story.

Sarah knew as well as I did that The Hatchet’s opinions section was really the place that I belonged. Joining the opinions team felt like family. Starting my Hatchet editorship as a contributing opinions editor the spring of my freshman year was a daunting responsibility, but Patrick, Doug and Annu made me immediately feel valued. That’s the sign of effective leadership, and I’ve tried to take notes from you all.

When I try to explain the value of The Hatchet, I often rely upon a snapshot from one of my first days as a soon-to-be contributing opinions editor: Patrick, Doug, Annu and I huddled around a computer debating the connotation of one word in a low-down paragraph of a staff editorial.

No, I don’t remember the word we were discussing. And I don’t even remember what the staff editorial was about. But I do remember – and am still obsessed with – the degree of precision involved in getting a piece of writing right. That devotion to language shocked me, inspired me and motivated me to improve my own work ethic throughout the duration of my Hatchet experience.

Because, after all, words can be magical things. But only if you pick the right ones and put them in the right order, like Annu always did. Annu, you’ve heard it before from me and others: Your writing is a gift. Reading your old Hatchet columns is a ritual of mine before I attempt to wax philosophical or stir up my own passion – and that’s a practice I know I’ll maintain in my writing career for years to come. Thank you.

Doug: I often worry Hatchet editors don’t do enough laughing. But your lightheartedness kept me going, even when I had no idea how the hell to do my job, which was most of the time. Office hours were always more fun when you came to them.

Working with Patrick was the highlight of my sophomore year. Pat, everything we stressed about then – not knowing how to operate computers, your relentless stealing of my Ivory Basement fries, spending late-night hours debating the best staff ed lede or whether anyone really gives a shit about MOOCs or humanities funding – seems so hilarious to me now. I am thankful for every freaking moment of those crazy twelve months. You’ve been a mentor, a friend, the pregnant, rock-eating older brother I never had. Our time at the helm of Page Four was more absurd (and more fun) than even your most ridiculous hypotheticals.

Gabe, it’s probably a good thing you and I never worked directly together, because our say-it-like-it-is personalities would have been far too much for everyone else to handle. You’re so articulate, and I’ve always admired that. You’re the only person I know who is a bigger diva – and devoted diva worshipper – than me.

Amanda and Ermey: Years later, your jokes and songs are still remembered and heralded. Thanks for your positive energy – and thanks for slipping me secret sips of wine on late prodo nights. (We won’t tell Priya.)

By the time I took over the section a year later, I felt like I was prepared because there were so many people sending me their positive vibes – like Justin and Lyndsey. A lot of people insist they are “just an email or phone call away.” Thank you both for actually meaning it. Lyndsey, you’ve always been a calm and steady force among a dramatic cacophony of louder and less rational voices. And Justin, your reminder – that The Hatchet is first and foremost a learning paper that should herald sharing knowledge over Facebook story shares – is something I tell every staffer who will listen.

I’ve always felt competitive with you, Cory, because you’re among the smartest people I know and you make it all look easy. As my editor, you challenged me to think past my initial assumptions and helped my columns and staff editorials make the smartest and most nuanced arguments possible. I don’t know if I ever really hit my stride writing opinions for The Hatchet, but if I did, it was with your help.

Jacob, the ops page and The Forum would not have been as populated or as insightful were your voice absent from them. Others have said that you are among the best writers to pass through The Hatchet in years, and I think that’s true. Also: The carrot still bobs in its murky water.

I could not have been a successful opinions editor without consistent moral support and emotional buttressing from Jenna. One of our often-asked hot seat questions is: “Who is the most interesting person you’ve ever met?” I was never asked, but I’ve always known my answer: you. On the short list of people who have genuinely changed the way I see the world, you probably rank first. Your presence in my life taught me that my thoughts and feelings are valid at a time when I needed that reminder most. I wish I knew a better way to express my gratitude to you than merely jotting a few words on a page.

And among the biggest gifts to me as opinions editor for Volume 110 was my gurl, Bluge. It’s been so exciting watching you grow as a writer and critical thinker over the past two and a half years. Thanks for laughing at all of my dad jokes – and I am sorry for hardly ever letting you live. I hope you’ll use me as your sounding board for tips, advice (and sass) as you and Melissa do great things with this paper’s most special section. I am so proud of you.

Moving into a new townhouse one year ago meant more than a simple routine change from GW Deli trips to FoBo breaks. Rather, those of us who had worked in the old townhouse were tasked with bringing with us the history, memories and sense of Hatchet pride that, from 1993 to 2014, had room to blossom at 2140 G St.

Working on The Hatchet this year has been different: With such a young staff, nearly half (or even more?) of current editors don’t even have memories in the old townhouse. So to all of the newer Hatchet staffers: Read the archives. But the real Hatchet lore will reveal itself not in our pages, but at our parties. Trust me.

On the Hatchet gossip front, you can also trust Chloe, with whom I have loved spilling secrets over these three years. We are this year’s two longest-working staffers – the only remaining members of our “Hatchet class” to make it all the way to a 30. I hope you will still send me absurd New York Magazine stories about Bruce Jenner even when we no longer both have Hatchet email accounts. I’ll always share the “we took a 4-RIDE from Phillips to Thurston” story with a smile and a giggle.

And Mel, we could all use a bit more of your self-deprecating approach to humor. I’m inspired by your ability to work hard, excel and gracefully laugh off the tough parts of every day.

Diana, I meant what I said in our last staff meeting: Your drive has been an inspiration. Seeing as we both have plans for employment at the same company, something tells me our paths will cross again soon.

Brianna, The Hatchet has been lucky to have a leader who is, above all, herself. I’m in awe of your ability to lead this paper your own way, not by conforming to some ambiguous standard of how a Hatchet editor in chief is supposed to act. That’s a tough thing to do, and a lesson too many people travel through The Hatchet without learning. I’ve been meaning to say this for a while, and I’m sorry I waited until now.

To the ed board sass queens – Anna, Sam, Nora, Sophie: Looking back, it seems like I was my utmost sassiest during our meetings. Thanks for putting up with me. I have had so much fun group-pooping and dishing about the Kardashians with you all.

Rachel, make this job your oyster. The benefit of a job without a job description is that you have the power to really define it. I know you will. Carry on our tradition and keep drinking only wine at parties. Out of the bottle. Obviously.

Sam – no, you did not overstay your welcome. Thanks for being your sweet self.

Zach, you missed my hot seat so I didn’t get an opportunity to tell you I admire you. What quality I wish I had: Your ability to give The Hatchet 100 percent, even on days when you’d rather pour your energy into other things. You are this paper’s unsung leader.

Speaking of leadership: Colleen, you have the exact blend of humor and intellectual strength it takes to lead this paper. I’ve loved sharing the Zen Lounge with you this year. And since I’ve known you, I’ve loved sharing other things, too – like bottles of Pinot, yoga classes, feelings about objectivity in journalism and those amazing wipes that get jean stains off the walls. In the slideshow of pictures that represent my college experience, there are undoubtedly many of you and I with our mouths wide open, mid-belly laugh.

And Rubba Lubba Ding Dong, my senior year in college has become synonymous with our late night chats on the floor of your bedroom, the absurd language we’ve adopted for ourselves after watching an Oprah YouTube video and our regular shrieking over Beyonce’s existence. Rob, thank you for every word you’ve ever said to me that’s challenged my traditional notions of thinking. Here’s my turn for a litany: You’ve been my editor, my secret-keeper, my see-and-be-seen buddy, my “is this mean” arbiter, my politically correct moral conscious, my only Snapchat friend and the person I text when I need to yenta. I’m not telling you to Instagram this, but… #OurDating

Jaggar: You have taught me far more than you realize about the strength and resilience of the human spirit. I wish you believed in yourself as much as I believe in you.

Melissa, Marianna, Lisa and Samantha: When I need to take a breath from my Hatchet friends, all four of you were there to pat me on the back and tell me I did a good job when I wasn’t sure I deserved it, which was most of the time.

And of course, through the highest highs and the lowest lows, I’ve had my darling Philip. I hope you know this: I wouldn’t be who I am without our friendship. Your pride is unassailable – and just by living and breathing, you’ve instilled in me the importance of loving oneself. (Cuz if you can’t love yourself…) Cheers to our next adventure, you crazy queen.

Matthew: I’m proud of you and I really like being your older brother. Sorry I don’t say that more – but look, now you have it in writing.

Mom and Dad: In this competitive D.C. bubble, the importance of a moral compass is often overlooked. Thank you both for realizing its value and ingraining it in me.

Nick, you’ve seen me at my worst, but you make me strive to become the best version of myself. I’m prouder of your accomplishments than you will ever allow yourself to be. You’re the best conflict of interest a college journalist could ever ask for. I love you.

Now, I’m still searching for the memoir title that sums up my college experience and my time at The Hatchet. For me at least, these years have been far too complicated to boil down in just one headline.

What I do know, however, is that I am thankful – so, very deeply – for what The Hatchet has gifted me: a sense of community, purpose and self that I hold in my heart even as I step out the townhouse door for the last time.

And now, as I look to the future, I’m thinking it’s time to celebrate with a big glass of wine. (A memoir.)

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