Brandon Lee: A different kind of growth spurt

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | 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.

I’m fairly certain I’ve stopped growing. Vertically, anyway. Character growth is all I have left.

Regardless, that didn’t exactly stop me from Googling “anabolic steroids” one week before high school homecoming in a desperate, last-ditch effort to not be photographically immortalized as the shortest kid at the dance where even the smallest ladies would tower over me in their high heels.

I’ve since put that unfortunate low point behind me. Besides, thanks to this brave new world of office dronehood, I don’t need to be the size of you primordial behemoths for respect — we’re all the same size in our cubicles. I need only be perceptive and passionate, dedicated and discerning: In my time at The Hatchet, I’ve seen how this paper and this staff have been powerful forces in refining my character toward all of these things. And for that, I’m grateful.

To be perfectly honest, I’m surprised I made it this far. I knew I loved to write and edit, but only because I did the same for my high school paper. But cold-calling high-caliber legal experts in Orange County for insights on university police conduct regarding investigative protocols for sexual assault on campus, all on a Friday morning? The most exotic person I interviewed in the 11th grade was Gertrude, the retiring lunch lady with gout.

It was an intimidating new job for a newbie, but my editors always stood beside me, pushing and guiding me ever forward. I endured those crabby professors on the phone and those late-night revision sessions in Google Docs. I grew confident enough that I could soon be a leader on my own. Now, I even have my own desk here, upon which to exercise my grammatical fanaticism as your copy editor. It’s a quirky job for sure, one that’s more stereotypically befitting for future librarians, and positively correlated with feline enthusiasm. As an Asian male whose favorite pastime is Call of Duty, I’m glad I could break that mold.

And sure, all these new items for my resume are shiny perks. But just because I’ve gained a few career prospects by working here, doesn’t mean that it compromises all of the relationships I’ve made. (I mean, it enhances them, if anything.) Yet mere bullet points on a self-important piece of paper mean nothing when I think about the family this place has provided to me. Every Sunday has been fueled by a desire to give back to this paper almost as much as what it’s given me: “almost,” because there’s nothing I can offer that’s worth how much these people have changed my life in such extraordinary, incalculable ways.

Often, I’ve felt inadequate and undeserving of this position. I’ve made plenty of mistakes, questioned my skills and feared my co-workers thought the same. Yet, these very doubts gave me agency, a sense of duty and belonging and ownership I’d been missing for some time, and I grew because of them, not in spite of them. Muscle soreness will always accompany a growth spurt, so to speak. And every new responsibility I took under my wing was just another inch to eagerly tickmark on my bedroom door with a Sharpie. I have everyone at this institution to thank for each one.

Lord Varys once said to Tyrion Lannister, “A very small man can cast a very large shadow.” I may not be fortunate enough to be an aristocratic fantasy dwarf on primetime TV (“soon-to-be college graduate with a Zimbabwean level of debt” is evidently more my speed), but if fate says I have to be a “very small man” for the rest of my life, I hope at least I cast a “very large shadow” through it all. The laughter I’ve elicited here, perhaps? The ideas I’ve put forth? All the style errors I’ve corrected? Whatever it is, I know I’ve left at least a few colors on the walls of this unforgettable place. But the people at The Hatchet have shaped me in ways, unlike height tickmarks on a wall, I’ll never be able to quantify.

You’re the only growth spurt I’ve ever needed. You’re the only steroids I’ve ever wanted. Thank you for everything.

Media Credit: Desiree Halpern | Photo Editor

Colleen: One morning, back when I didn’t have townhouse access, I texted you to let me in so I could go over a Corcoran acquisition story with you, my new editor at the time. And then you told me you just woke up, so I got some food at Dunkin’ and waited for you to come. Humble beginnings, huh? And now, here we are, about to walk across a Commencement stage with matching Hatchet cords, about to leave the institution where we planted our little feet and about to say our despairing goodbyes to all the people that have changed our lives. You have changed my life the most. There is nothing I could do, nothing I could imagine doing, that could repay you for the opportunities you’ve given me here.

Thank you for fostering me from the beginning. Thank you for guiding me through all the intricacies of this place. The articles I wrote for you have become — because of your editorial mastery — my proudest works. I hope I’ve made you proud too. Between our many late-night Sundays and even more numerous human pyramids, this place has been my harvest field of happiness, with you the farmer. Call me Ghent. I am your farmhand, forever.

Zachary: I feel like you’ve been on staff since Jesus delivered the Beatitudes. You must have seen some wild things throughout your time here, haunting memories that will traumatize you forever. I hope I make up at least 50 percent of those nightmares. In reality, I hope that I’ve made your life on The Hatchet more enjoyable and entertaining in the same way you’ve done so for me. You often refer to me as your “true friend,” which is a title I do not take for granted, even if it’s a lighthearted quip.

I sometimes reminisce of when we had a PlayStation playdate, worked on Marco Rubio’s faux campaign and watched a baseball game together. I also remember when you once abandoned me for better seats. There’s a photograph of me slung over your shoulder on the third floor, from a year ago. It’s some ironic joke how the exact same thing happened when you saved me from myself at Sign of the Whale. Thank you for that, and thank you for everything else.

Eva: Once, you came to my room after prodo to watch the newest Game of Thrones episode, and you started talking, and I told you to shut your mouth. Sorry. It was an excellent time regardless, right? Thank you for being so dedicated and invested in teaching me new things, and molding me into the editor I am now. Remember when we ran around the White House to cover the Ferguson protests? Remember when I walked into the first class of public speaking, saw you, and knew it would be my favorite class for all my time at this school? We were an inseparable metro team, and still inseparable friends once I moved onto the copy desk.

Thank you for being the listening ear for all of my most guarded secrets, my hopeful dreams, my deepest fears. Thank you for sitting with me outside Guthridge that important night. We both grew up in this place together, we found our friendships here and we shaped each other in so many ways. You are Eva the Believa. Thank you for believing in me.

Jacqueline: You are a strong-willed commander of your section and a steadfast writer to boot. I admire the strength of your dedication to leading the newsroom, and I know it will translate effortlessly to your dedication to leading the rest of staff. Thanks for being the Joan Harris to my Don Draper. From what I can piece together from that Halloween night, we were undoubtedly the best dressed. While staying in character by smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey was, I will say, unconducive to my wellbeing, the photos were almost definitely worth it.

Jeanine: I have three different homes in this city: My apartment, the townhouse and your and Des’s place. For every fond memory I’ve made at the Greenhouse, there are definitely some memories I’ve forgotten due to refreshments served there, including a certain gelatinous concoction. From the time Mark and I adventured to Adams Morgan to pick up your culturally significant birthday cake, to the situation when we sat on your rooftop and a frightening ghoul of a woman berated us for our noise, you have been the reason for so many of my fondest recollections. Thank you for being a friend and an ear to talk to about good books, Irish brogues and race relations. Keep eating those Trader Joe’s dumplings and keep learning French.

Sarah B.: They say being a mother is the hardest job in the world. I’m not so sure that’s true, so long as The GW Hatchet employs an opinions editor. You’ve managed writers, led the editorial board, published staff editorials in addition to your own columns. To be such a principled thinker and a powerful writer and a proven leader all in one? Admiring you is as easy as drawing a naked Jedi.

Thanks for entertaining all of my laissez-faire outbursts in Ed Board discussions, and thanks for going to Hatchet Prom with me. I don’t know if you remember, but Mark played a Walk The Moon medley on his ukulele in my promposal. I hope you can attend many more of their concerts in the future. Much better than Spring Fling, anyway. They say being a mother is the hardest job in the world? Well, in a way you’re Ed Board’s mother, so maybe the saying is true after all.

Leonore: I don’t know how quiet the third floor was before I moved up there, but sometimes when I’d be ranting about the federal government, or preaching Ayn Rand or demanding Boyz II Men be put on the Christmas music playlist and I see you’ve put on your headphones, I wonder if it was a peaceful place before my entrance. Thank you for putting up with my zeal and for being such a kickass sports editor. I envy your job often, seeing you travel around the country for The Hatchet to report on Division I athletes. Then I think about encountering a sweaty Kevin Larsen on a regular basis, and the envy disappears. Just like the 2015–2016 GW men’s basketball team, you’re a champion.

Grace G. and Regina: No other sentient beings have loved Cate Blanchett more than you, Grace. I admire your depth of knowledge of the intimidatingly complex celebrity underworld of which I experience vicariously through your Twitter. Never stop using your knowledge to The Hatchet’s advantage. You’re a one-of-a-kind culture writer, equipped with a myriad of Taylor Swift puns at your disposal. Regina, you have the unique opportunity to learn from (and teach!) Grace through whom you may employ your pop cultural finesse for the betterment of this great paper. Seize it!

Samantha: By the time we’ve been at prodo for 12 hours, you and I are best visually represented by the melting family of snowmen we saw in line to see Scalia’s casket. Thanks for persevering through all of my crude and impertinent jokes, as well as crude and impertinent political beliefs. My first memory of you is when I angrily muted you on Twitter for belligerently tweeting about House of Cards when I wasn’t caught up. Now, the only reason I open Twitter is to read the hilarity and truth from your account.

You’re a remarkable graphic designer, and I’m so glad we can melt together at the end of prodo every Sunday. If your ultimate goal in life is to darken every room you enter, showering it with themes of a gothic death, sorry, you’ve failed in my evaluation: To me, you brighten every room, filling it with my bursts of laughter with every witty and hysterical comment you make about the administration or Kim Kardashian or dank memes. Never stop designing, never stop tweeting, never stop loving Zayn. I’ll be nothing but a sack of skin if you ever stop being you.

Désirée: When you returned to D.C. from France, I’m sure you saw a lot of changes to The Hatchet. A semester is a long time in staff years. One of the new faces belonged to me. It’s quite something to think about: I find myself pondering it all the time. Entire months across an ocean, only to return to the same institution you had been working for, all those croissants and Instagram posts ago — the very same townhouse where I’d only just begun to settle down and start my story. Flash forward a year, and you’ll hear our laughter echoing across the alleyway where you took my senior portrait. I ran around with an American flag and posed as a Korean version of the Statue of Liberty — and none of that surprised you because we’d already done it all together.

We searched for Auntie Anne’s guy at basketball games, sweating profusely when that damn score was close (as it always was). We dressed up as the Pokemon triumvirate and took approximately 999,999 photographs. I sang along to Dean Martin, rolling around my floor with a remote controller in my hand as a makeshift karaoke microphone, and you recorded it all. The only thing we have yet to do now is to say our goodbyes, and I’m going to need a lot more Jell-O shots before I can say it to you. Thank you for all of the memories you’ve given to me.

Katherine: The best kind of knowledge is free knowledge, I always say! Which is fairly counterintuitive, of course, since I attend a $60,000 private institution to learn “things.” But you’ve been a treasure trove of information for me ever since we met. I know 100 times more about women’s studies and LGBT issues than the average libertarian male thanks to you. And your photographic expertise still impresses me today as much it impressed me when you first showed me your Flickr during math class. Thanks for taking so many pictures of me with your skills when you could’ve been shooting far prettier things, like a burning building or a sketchy Vern Express van at 3 a.m.

Robin: When I think of Robin Eberhardt, I think about singing karaoke (or quelling your wrath about failed karaoke plans), a rapid-fire velocity of speaking, Pennsylvania generally, Allentown specifically, breaking news and red wine. But all of these don’t even fully encapsulate the character that makes you the most vibrant and vivacious person I’ve ever had the adventure of knowing. With every late-night townhouse conversation we’ve shared, you’ve made my time here more and more unforgettable. Thanks for swiping right on me and enduring my grammar-themed pickup lines. Thanks for spending Valentine’s Day with me after we covered the fire at Fulbright by watching Pride & Prejudice. What an awful movie.

Eleanor: You’re the boss now. Don’t let the power get to your head. When I asked you in my deliberately booming and forceful tone during your vetting process if it’s better to be feared or respected, I wasn’t so interested in your response to the Machiavellian question — I was too caught up wondering where all the time had gone, that you and I were once mere reporters under the same finance beat, that you and I were once mere fact checkers under the same workflow column. And now, I’m graduating, and you’ll be one of the most powerful students on campus. So yes, don’t let the power get to your head. But do have a little bit of fun on the way. You’ll be in my shoes sooner than you’d think.

Avery and Lillianna: You guys are brave, much braver than I am, to be joining the newsroom. Lillianna, I remember when you, Eva and I were in the same public speaking class together. From hardly knowing you back then to being forcibly questionnaired by you and Robin now, I can see firsthand how your new reporting/interviewing skills have facilitated the progression of our relationship. Avery, I haven’t known you for very long but in the short span of time I have, I’ve felt very fortunate to have been acquainted with your warm and friendly character. Both of you have immense talent and penchants for writing. Don’t ever let those go.

Mark: When we ate our food in a Sheetz parking lot at 3 a.m. in Frederick, Md., everything was bliss. I was so glad that our excursion to pick up papers did not go awry. And then, of course, it did. There we were, driving down a highway with 350 pounds of newspapers weighing down the back of my trunk as the inertia of my car tried to kill us. If we had died, at least we’d have died in dignity, blasting some Don McLean while on business for the organization that we love. More importantly, at least I would have died with my best friend.

Thank you for all the companionship you’ve given me these past couple years. Our very first interactions were studying for our final exam on Reconstruction in the lobby of Mitchell, and now, we’re a short-tall novelty duo that wears matching Halloween costumes together and face-swaps on Snapchat together and celebrates birthdays at 51st State together. Thanks for enhancing my beer pong skills, thanks for lending me your couch after Hatchet functions, and thanks for the sneak peek of your rap album. One day, the Rangers will win the Stanley Cup. I hope I’m there with you to celebrate.

Grace K.: You are the AP to my Style, the diction to my syntax, the Oxford to my comma, the twerk to my flow? Ignore that last one. I never stop thinking about how fortunate I am that you’re here, a cultural dynamo and linguistic extraordinaire with an evidently high degree of patience for libertarian outbursts. I’ve seen you learn so, so much over all these months, and you couldn’t comprehend how much prouder and prouder I become with every passing Sunday.

Seeing you by my side interviewing candidates for copy was an electric shock. You’ve gone full circle, haven’t you, since I first interviewed you? I hope that this experience has been as valuable and dear to you as it has been for me. Thank you for all the help you’ve given to me, and you’re welcome for all the answers I’ve given you. I’ll always be only an email or a text away if you ever have a copy inquiry in the future, even if we’re thousands of miles apart as you explore the wonders that this world has to offer.

Melissa H.: You have some big shoes to fill once Sarah’s gone, but there’s no one more equipped for the job. This is extra amusing because you wrote a piece on misconceptions about Republicans while Sarah wrote about why she isn’t one anymore. Yet from my vantage point on the third floor and in our editorial board meetings, I have seen how well you two work together and how qualified you are to be this place’s next opinions editor. I hope you were humored by my 11th-hour cartoons as much as I was by your last-minute emails asking for one. I’m sorry about Jeb Bush. He deserved better.

Daniel: When I first saw you at Hatchet Holiday two years ago, I saw a jolly young man who was good at playing Kings. Since then, I’ve come to learn that you’re not as jolly of a person as I had initially thought. But I prefer this anyway. I need a disgruntled partner with whom I can express my disdain for the various sadnesses of life, not the least of which is the prospect of President Trump. I remember when we played Grand Theft Auto together, you ran over a dog and subsequently shut off the game severely depressed. It symbolized two things: You don’t have a driver’s license, and you love dogs.

Thanks for enduring all of my offensive quips, and thanks for coming with me and Sam to see Scalia’s casket, where I’m sure it was worth it for you thanks to all the dogs we saw. You’re a phenomenal and gifted photographer, one who can capture the intensity of a game and the triumph or sorrow of its result. Never stop shooting pictures.

Blair, Sarah M., Halley and Deepa: They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well, a two-minute, 30-frame-per-second video is worth 3,600 pictures. So according to that adage, a video is worth 3.6 million words? That still wouldn’t be a large enough word count to verbalize my admiration for the video team. You guys are extraordinarily skilled at your jobs, and the quality of your videos continue to impress me week after week. My only regret is there aren’t more words in videos, meaning the copy desk hasn’t interacted with your work as much as I’d like. Just know that if you ever feature the story of a Chinese immigrant whose English is so bad that he needs subtitles, copy editors will be here to help.

Tyler and Melissa S.: My first position on staff was research assistant as well. So was Ellie’s, Colleen’s and Eva’s, and now you, too, are climbing up Mount Hatchet! Of course, you can only make it to the summit if you remain as dedicated and perceptive as you are now, but if your work ethics and drives are any indication, methinks you have a promising future. You two might be moving up to very different staff positions, but they both entail a daunting set of tasks that will be quite the learning experience. In their own unique ways, the nature of these responsibilities means you’ll both be the backbone of this paper, and I know you’ll do a top-notch job.

Emily and Anna: You fellas, The Hatchet’s very own dynamic design duo, will one day have to design your former boss Samantha LaFrance’s investigative mortician business cards once all the fumes of formaldehyde irreversibly atrophies the creative cortex of her cerebellum. But I’ve seen your guys’ work and couldn’t think of a better duo for the job. Unleash your creativity onto the pages of this paper, and never stop being the artists you already are.

Alexander and Devon: Alex, I thought I was the most offensive person I knew, but you sure gave me a run for my money. I appreciate your passion for the journalistic business, even if it meant having to endure the thunderous clamor erupting from your evidently powerful vocal chords. You’re an ambitious and high-thinking man — use those to your advantage. If all else fails, reread The Art of the Deal and try again. Devon, you might not be as cacophonous as your predecessor, but zero parts of me doubt you won’t be as effective. Since Alex’s magnum opus is the conference room television, your challenge is to install a killer surround sound system to consummate The Hatchet’s inevitable home theater.

Business team: Mark and I like to think we’re honorary business team members because we drove to and from Frederick one night to deliver papers. Consider that our thanks to you guys for all the work you do to ensure this institution can survive, and more importantly, thrive. Without you folks, there is no GW Hatchet to begin with. Thanks for everything you do.

Victoria and Ryan: Bonjour mes amies. I miss you guys and await your triumphant return to this country that saved your host country from the Nazis. I hope Europe is as beautiful as it is in your Snap Stories, et j’espère que vous aimez chaque minute. Victoria, I yearn for more of your hot takes on rapper beefs, and while being graduated will mean I won’t get to write my essays at 4 a.m. in the townhouse with you anymore, I treasure those memories of discussing Marco Rubio, gun politics and Drake–Meek Mill feuds when we should have been doing homework. Ryan, I was very opposed to you shaving your beard and I now long for its reappearance in the near future. I remember when you, Ellie and I all wrote for Colleen’s section. I also remember when I demanded your and Ellie’s presence at a Hatchet party and forced you both to baste. Never have I been prouder.

Brianna: The first time my name ever appeared on a byline, it was you who put it there. That grandiose, self-important Foggy Bottom neighborhood block party will never be forgotten. I was so fortunate to have had you as my first editor. You always answered my questions with unparalleled wisdom, and you guided me through every Hatchet procedure, all while my first-semester-freshman-year learning curve was steeper than a University tuition hike. Yet, in return, Zach and I made you mediocre scrambled eggs. Thanks for being the reason I was able to plant my roots here, all those issues ago.

Cory: My stereotypical view of professional editors in chief before coming to college was that they are all a group of ruthless, difficult, cantankerous meanies, mostly because that’s what I was in high school. But it was your welcoming and approachable demeanor that proved my notion way wrong. I knew I wouldn’t make friends immediately once I started writing, but at least it helped knowing that you, the actual leader of this place, were someone I could count on if I wanted help on stories or deserved derisive comments about my cargo shorts. Thanks for making me feel welcome in such an intimidating institution.

Rachel: I’m a descendant of a true master of her craft. The copy desk adopted me when I was small, and with every answer after answer to my question after question, you shaped me in ways I could never fully grasp. I followed your lead and became a leader. I listened to your advice and became an adviser. I hope you agree when I say we played a beautiful duet together, The Hatchet our stage, the AP Stylebook our guitars. My only regret is that I never wound up partaking in the Hatchet Prom Copy Editors’ Fireball Tradition, but it’s not too late to try!

Inanimate objects: Third floor whiteboard, I’m sorry for drawing so many maps on you, especially the ones detailing tactical plans for igniting an armed rebellion against the United States federal government. If a nonliving thing could be put on a watchlist, you’re indubitably being monitored by BOARDINTELPRO. Copy desk, thank you for always supporting me, literally. Your and my co-existence has become sort of a novelty. I think I’ve amassed 78¢ in those two mugs, but if people actually followed the rules, I should have enough to put a sizable dent in the the national debt.

Mom, Dad, Kevin and Cookie: Speaking of debt, you’re keeping me from drowning in it. Thanks for everything you’ve done to pave the road for me to find my place here. Sure, the people of The Hatchet are my second family, but no need to feel threatened that they’ll replace you (they don’t pay my rent). Dad, I’ll be home in time to watch Game of Thrones with you so that I can re-explain every single plot point again, like I always do. Mom, let’s go shopping for winter boots again and eat at a sushi buffet afterwards. Kevin, every inch you grow taller than me is one more birthday punch I have to inflict upon you. Cookie, woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof woof.

New and future staffers: You’re in for the road trip of a lifetime. Fasten your seatbelts, but drive with the top down when the sun is shining. Check your tire pressure regularly, but also blast some Smash Mouth as you speed down the open road. If you’re here to exclusively work, or if you’re here to exclusively play, you’re doing it wrong. Maybe you joined staff to elevate your qualifications, learn some new things for yourself and simply write and shoot because that’s just what you love to do: These are all dandy. But don’t stay here to only indulge these things. Stay here because of the friends you’ll make, and let the work you do for yourself evolve into work you do for them.

You’ll be cruising down the highway of reminiscence sooner than you’d think, and far earlier than you’d hope. So make sure it’s a beautiful, scenic route, complete with warm memories and lasting companions who’ll sit at your passenger side for the whole trip. I’d seize any chance to turn my car around and drive along these parallel lines once more. But time is a one-way interstate, so don’t veer off course, keep your eyes on the road and cherish every moment of it all.

―30–

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