Cayla Harris: Putting down roots

Media Credit: Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

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

Fun fact: My favorite flower is the tulip.

It always has been, since I was a kid. My grandparents’ house was littered with them when I was young, and my granddad – a woodworker – would always whittle these little tulips for my sister and me to paint when we came to visit.

I’ve kind of had a thing for flowers for a while. All of my favorite jewelry is somehow related to flowers. I wear these three floral rings every day – the two on my left hand are daisies and the one on my right has some sort of pointed-petal situation going on – and my favorite necklace is a collection of five blue pansies. Last week, I was bored and decided to get a tattoo of a tulip on my wrist.

I couldn’t tell you exactly why all things floral have become such a big part of my life, but there is almost certainly some metaphor here about the similarities between humans and flowers.

Here’s what I’ve come up with: The end goal is always to grow. We find a home, put down roots and surround ourselves with things that help us blossom; for plants, it’s soil and water, and for us, it’s love, friends, experiences, passions. We all lean toward the sun – the things that make us happy and push us to do better, to grow taller.

So now let me tell you how that all relates to The Hatchet. Three years ago, I put down roots at the second-oldest newspaper in D.C. Having led my high school paper, I had come to college knowing that I loved journalism and felt confident in my writing abilities.

My wakeup call came midway through my first semester when I tried to write my first-ever story about a promotional video project aiming to attract international students to GW. Not only could I find zero experts for the story, but it was completely shredded in Google Docs and then pushed for three issues.

After nearly two weeks of dreadful reporting that led me to a whole three sources, the story was finally published. The final version probably had about one sentence I had written by myself.

I was embarrassed, and my ego had been wounded – but I wanted to do better. I had to do better. So I talked with my editor – dug my roots a little deeper – and the next time I had a story assignment, I helped break news that GW’s resident advisers were starting an effort to become the first undergraduate union at a private university.

Pushing myself to improve became somewhat of an addiction. With every interview I secured, every source I added to my contacts and every lede that wasn’t rewritten, I grew a little bit taller and a lot brighter.

Soon, my roots were so deep that I was writing about everything from financial aid to Student Association election scandals to food insecurity. Every published story was like more sun on my face.

There are many things you sacrifice when you become an editor at The Hatchet – sleep, grades, internship opportunities. But there are also so many things you gain. I racked up hundreds of bylines, leadership experience and a list of strong verbs to last a lifetime.

And those are just the professional aspects of the newspaper. Flowers often grow in bunches – and I, certainly, did not find my place alone. Becoming an editor at The Hatchet often means giving up large portions of your social life, so I was lucky that many of my coworkers became my very best friends and confidantes. We all grew up – and upward – together.

I apologize if this metaphor is getting a little repetitive; this has been the hardest story I’ve ever had to write. I have spent three years telling other people’s stories, and telling my own – well, that’s unfamiliar territory.

So I’ll stop here. Thank you to everyone who has offered me guidance, made me laugh, lent a helping hand or pushed me to do better. You have all helped me blossom here.

Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

My news team(s):

Jacqueline Thomsen: Thanks for being the first senior news editor I’ve had to look up to. Your email tips have been very much appreciated this year – let’s finally grab that coffee soon.

Liz Konneker: At least in my experience, there are two sides to you: the side you meet when you get to know Liz Konneker and the side when you get to know Liz Konneker. Both sides are equally funny, intelligent, composed, interesting and fun to be around. I miss the times we co-bylined together – never have two people written 1,200 words so quickly. I have yet to see a duo break the record.

Elise Zaidi: My first thought about you was that you were asking way too much of me. It was the first student life meeting of the year, and I hopped on the Vex to head to the townhouse. Traffic was horrible, and I ended up missing our meeting by an hour and change. I thought: I’m never going to go to one of these meetings again. I never did. Luckily, that didn’t stop you from giving me story assignments, grabbing coffee with me and encouraging me to apply for staff. Simply put: I would not be on staff if I didn’t have you as an editor. You are so kind and supportive, and I look forward to our many happy hour dates to come.

Justine Coleman: You are one of the kindest, most selfless people I have ever met. Though our time together on the news team was short, I am so glad that we became friends because of it. You are such a beautiful person and an incredible reporter, and you deserve every single amazing opportunity that comes your way. I would tell you to kill it at News 21, but I know that you will.

Leah Potter: You are one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met, and those qualities will serve you tremendously as managing director. Though I’m sad that you joined editorial board – because you are such a talented newswriter – they are lucky to have you to always offer a new perspective or encourage people to consider the littlest person in the room. Thank you for pushing me to be more sustainable and for making science stories (somewhat) interesting to read.

Lauren Peller: When you applied to be a news editor, I truly didn’t know what to expect. I had heard good things from your editors, but I was wary of hiring someone who I had never worked with personally. But the second you walked into your interview and told Liz and me for 10 minutes why academics was the best beat on the entire newspaper, I knew I could expect something good. Anyone who can rave about that section for so long was bound to be an asset to my news team. I am sad to see you leave news, but I know you will continue to be an asset to staff as managing editor. Don’t let the power get to your head, and make sure to keep that Long Island spunk through the toughest times.

Dani Grace: Before we had doNUTS and fights over crime log headlines, we had two little freshmen in the student life section, both anxious to move up in the ranks. You were one of the first people I met on The Hatchet, and honestly, you really scared me when I first met you. You were always so put together and knew exactly what you wanted, and that was intimidating. Luckily, I quickly found out it was all a lie. Not the put-togetherness or the knowing exactly what you want – you are one of the most organized people I’ve ever met – but the intimidating part was definitely fake. You are one of the funniest, most kind-hearted people, and you make conversations so easy. Being SNE is a tough job – but I am so proud of you for stepping up when the paper needed you most (even though you’re halfway across the world). Know that I’ll always be here for moral support.

Meredith Roaten: One-third of the original scamming trio. Our relationship has gone through its ups and downs over the past several years, but I am so happy that we have both made it out alive. The best part about you is your confidence and your ability to take a joke – because God knows this year would have gone very differently if you took my comments about your unique? outfits (to take a note from Andrew’s playbook) to heart. We have grown so much together on this news team and on this staff, and so many of my favorite Hatchet memories include you. Thank you for your contagious laughter and shared complaints about THAT class. I know you will do great things with the podcast next year, and I sincerely hope you keep writing for the finance section. You probably know more about the University’s bureaucracy than some administrators, so your institutional knowledge and guidance will be invaluable for the next set of news editors. Also: maybe one day you’ll finally get fame.

Parth Kotak: Parth, I will never not be impressed by you. You are one of the most intelligent, hard-working people I have ever met, and you manage everything on your plate (an internship, your job at The Hatchet, a double major and minor, etc…) with complete ease. I will never forget how Liz K. absolutely raved about you last year, and I’m so glad you joined our staff even though you are not a journalism major or minor. You have grown more as a reporter, writer and leader in the past few weeks than I could have ever imagined, and I am so proud of you. I know the finance and academics sections will be in incredible hands next year, and I am so glad that I am passing off (half) my job to someone who can actually do math. This job is difficult and often thankless, but please never lose your sense of humor and drive to put out good work. I will be cheering you on from afar (and hoping you are better at publishing blogs than me).

Andrew Goudsward: Since your 30 made me cry horribly last year, I feel a lot of pressure writing your section. Let’s go in chronological order: First, thanks for being the first person on this staff to really believe in me. You vouched for me before you knew me and before we even knew we went to the same high school (and somehow didn’t cross paths in a school with 300 students?). I will forever be grateful for your support, then and now. Second, you are the most talented writer I have ever met. Writing comes so naturally to you, and I learned so much from you last year. I’m thankful for our mutual love of anecdotal ledes and strong verbs, though I’m sorry that you’ve probably cringed every time we published “upped” or “upping” this year. I have grown more as a writer under your guidance than in any class I have taken either in high school or at GW, and the Asbury Park Press is beyond lucky to have you (and should give you a raise). Lastly, thanks for being my therapist this year, for always being here even though you’re actually four hours away. You never fail to ground me in the middle of a crisis or a mental breakdown – and there have been quite a few. Here’s to more brunches at Meemom’s and gossip about Monmouth County.

Sarah Roach: I am so, so proud of you. I sometimes think of the first times we met – back when you were just a little reporter in a section I loved so dearly – and I knew immediately that you were a force to be reckoned with. You took initiative, pitched the craziest stories and went to all lengths to get interviews. I was impressed with you from day one – and then less impressed when I read your first draft – but you bounced back and exceeded everyone’s expectations. I was so excited and encouraged when you took over student life last year because I knew that the section was left in good hands. I feel the same now about The Hatchet as an institution. I am so excited to see where you bring Volume 116. When things get tough or you have a particularly bad day, don’t forget to take a minute to breathe. Self-care is so important in any leadership job at The Hatchet, so please take the time to get your nails done or take a quick walk to the Tidal Basin. And if you need to rant or scream or laugh or cry, know that I will just be a phone call away. Always.

Next year’s news team: Welcome to one of the toughest, most rewarding jobs on The Hatchet. I am so thrilled for all of the experiences ahead of all of you this year. During the tough times, don’t forget why you joined the paper, and lean on each other for support. Paige Morse, you have been given the absolute best position on staff. Relish every second, build up your source relationships and make us all proud.

My other Hatchet friends:

Yonah Bromberg Gaber: Given the number of times we fought over graphics last year, people are constantly surprised to find out we’re friends. You are beyond talented, and your knowledge of maps and GIS has never failed to amaze me. Thanks for the occasional cooking lessons and catch-up dinners throughout the year.

Renee Pineda: There aren’t many times that news and opinions overlap, but I am so glad that the divide didn’t stop us from becoming friends this year. You are such a powerhouse – a strong writer, a composed leader and a constant voice of reason. I know you will find success in whatever you do and hope our future catch-up sessions happen almost exclusively at hockey games.

Olivia Anderson: You are one of the most talented, poised people I have ever met. Even though you took on fewer news photos than planned this year, it has been an absolute pleasure seeing the incredible content you have produced for the sports section. You are way too hard on yourself, and I hope you recognize what an amazing photographer and leader you are.

Donna Armstrong: Taking photos for the news section is a huge undertaking, and you have blown me away with the content you have produced this year – all with a sense of humor. Thank you for the beautiful 30 photos and for wasting away four hours with me on a Saturday morning while I complained about all the bugs flying in my face. Disfruta tu experiencia en España, come muchas tapas y bebe suficiente vino para nosotras dos.

Olivia Dupree: It has been an absolute pleasure watching you grow into your own this year. You started off the year as a shy person who helped design a few pages before heading out for the evening – and now I couldn’t imagine ending prodo without your sassy commentary and insightful design input. I am so glad you’re sticking around in this position for another semester; I know you will make 116 look beautiful.

Zach Slotkin: I told you this earlier, but I was a design child long before I took news stories. Coming to The Hatchet townhouse on Sundays to design ops pages on the third floor was the highlight of every week as a freshman. You are an incredible designer, a great teacher and an amazing friend. Thank you for bonding with me over our shared emo pasts.

Arianna Dunham: You are really a jack of all trades. You are not only incredibly funny and #relatable, but you’re also such a calming presence in every room you walk into and a voice of reason at all times. You make every single responsibility you have to juggle look so easy, and I will miss our visuals budgeting whispers very, very much.

Donna Armstrong | Contributing Photo Editor

Kelly Hooper: Sorry for bullying you into joining The Hatchet, but I’m so glad this paper has made absolutely sure that we didn’t drift in college. There is no one else I’d rather share this GW experience with, from our first drive to CI together to our freshman year outings to our (sadly, very occasional) catch-ups over coffee. You are such a talented writer and copy editor, and this staff is so lucky to have you. You are secretly one of the funniest people ever, and I can’t wait to go out together after my 21st, whether it’s at our home in D.C. or in Monmouth County.

Barbara Alberts: You are a consistent ray of light no matter how dark it gets in this position (or in life). I can always count on you for a spontaneous hug or some sentence ending with the word “love.” You have blown everyone away with the way you have handled the sports section this year, especially considering you were on your own for half the volume. You are so easy to talk to and to laugh with, and you have the most positive outlook on life of anyone I have ever met. Coffee Thursday?

Lindsay Paulen: You are the biggest gossip I know – but that’s a good thing. We share so many things – a newspaper, a sorority, a job – which gives us a ton to gossip about. You are overwhelming in the best way possible and can always brighten whatever room you walk into. I’m thankful for our mutual love of Compass Coffee and Chop’t (now that I’ve converted you), so I’m sure there will be many food dates in our future. I’ll be on the lookout for Instagram posts of all the incredible food you’ll eat abroad.

Lillianna Byington: I can’t thank you enough for bringing me on to your staff. I know you had your reservations, but I don’t think my time at The Hatchet would have been so special if you hadn’t put your faith in me as student life editor. You are relentless and held the news team to high standards – but that is exactly what we needed. Thank you for your guidance and wisdom, and I sincerely hope our careers cross paths somewhere down the line.

Sam Hardgrove: Sam, this year just wasn’t the same without you – mostly because the townhouse is just a bit quieter. You grew into one of my best Hatchet friends last year, and honestly, getting to know a photo team without the notorious Sam Hardgrove was a pretty tough transition to make this year. You are an incredibly talented photographer, first and foremost, but you are also an engaging leader who can capture anyone’s attention in just a few words. You are a caring, funny, dependable friend, and I miss you (and our post-SA debriefings) dearly.

Matt Cullen: I have never met someone who loves The Hatchet as much as you do – and I have met a lot of people who love The Hatchet. I wish you would stop being so hard on yourself and realize what a talented writer, reporter and leader you are. While I have heard incredible things about your time as sports editor, I know you mostly in your capacity as managing editor – please don’t ever downplay yourself in this position. Prodo is so long already, but it would be much longer if you weren’t around to offer thoughts on photos or graphics or page layouts. It is annoying how often you are right about those things. You are so very smart and talented – and, believe it or not, funny – so please do not drop off the face of the planet after we graduate.

Liz Provencher: So, why does the moment we’ve been waiting for all year feel so sad? Apologies that the next paragraph or so is going to get really sappy, though it shouldn’t be a surprise given that we’re both secretly soft. I remember sitting in the EIC office at the start of the volume chatting about what breaking news or crazy stories were awaiting us over the next year. Still, there was no way we could have predicted all of the surprises – both good and bad – that we encountered, all of which resulted in enough ranting sessions/phone calls/text message screenshots to last a lifetime. The SNE-EIC relationship is such an insane and special one, and I have been so blessed to have you as my other half. You have remained incredibly poised in the face of everything that has been thrown at you, and you have always managed to emerge from any crisis (how many do you think there have been?) with laughter. I don’t know if we’ll have any personality left after we leave The Hatchet, but if we do, I hope you always remain my partner in crime, my soundboard and the first person I call when something crazy happens at GW. At least the end of this chapter gives us an excuse to stop cursing so much and saying all the same things at the same time.

Everyone else who helped me along the way:

Mithu Sankar: My oldest and best friend – we have grown so much together (and so much apart!). Thanks for listening to me rant, for the camaraderie during all sorts of student org drama and for picking up my 2 a.m. FaceTime calls from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Anna Robinson: To the other half of the features dream team and my other half in general – thank you for being such a rock throughout college. You are always a voice of reason when things get hard, and you never fail to remind me why I do what I do.

Logan Brown: My first friend at GW and my biggest supporter. Thanks for being a constant hype man and the only person who has exactly the same work ethic as me. Though I don’t miss your constant encouragements to quit The Hatchet, I have missed you immensely this semester and can’t wait to hear about all of your European adventures.

DILLIGAF: I am very sorry that The Hatchet has often torn me away from Pi Phi events, but if there’s any reason that I stayed in the chapter, it’s because of you all. Anyu Silverman, Sydney Austin and Becca Leppert, thank you for the constant moral support and for allowing me to let off steam when things get a little too rough. I love you all.

My family: Thanks for understanding why I call so infrequently and haven’t been able to make many trips home over the past year. Your support has meant the world to me. Crystal, Cassidy and Cadence: Now that I’m old and washed up, I can’t wait to live through high school and college again vicariously through you all. Thank you for answering my FaceTime calls and calming me down whenever things got a little too real here in the District.

Nana: I am sorry you weren’t able to be here for my college years, but I hope you’d be proud of the work I created and the person I’ve become. I miss you (and our card games, crossword puzzles, Bananagram competitions) endlessly.

Media relations: The Hatchet produces dozens of stories each week, many of which wouldn’t be possible without the help and cooperation of our University media relations counterparts. I truly didn’t realize how much of my job as senior news editor would be consumed by random 15-minute phone calls with all of them. Maralee Csellar, thanks for vouching for us and for facilitating so many interviews and responses, as there are so very many from week to week. Thank you for also notifying me about the rogue reporters who maybe didn’t take their editor so seriously when they said not to reach out to administrators.

The administrators who get it: Student journalism is hard, especially when you work for an independent newspaper. Not everyone is going to be your biggest fan, and that’s OK, just so long as officials continue to be transparent and provide information pertinent to the broader community. But every once in a while, you meet an official who is particularly transparent and refreshingly understanding. So, thank you to the administrators who have called Maralee to ask for sit-downs with us (and not the other way around), who have respected our role on campus (even if they don’t like what we write) and who have said hi to me as I passed them in District House or the Marvin Center on the day-to-day: Laurie Koehler, Forrest Maltzman, Costas Solomou and Cissy Petty.

My sources: Seriously, I wouldn’t have been able to do this without you. Thank you for the out-of-the-blue phone calls, the off-the-record tips, the lengthy interviews and the constant surprises. You all know who you are. Thank you for making my job interesting. Peak Sen Chua and Sydney Nelson, the relationship between the student life editor and SA president/EVP duo is so, so crucial to The Hatchet’s coverage of literally anything dealing with student affairs. Thanks for giving me lots of stuff to write about and for making our many, many (many, many, many) interviews so enjoyable. Long live the off-the-record commentary on GW affairs.

Andi Mulshine: The second I started writing in Room 107 almost five years ago, I knew that I’d found something I loved. Your support and guidance shaped me into the journalist I am today. My first journalism lessons: the basics of AP style, the inverted pyramid, how to conduct an interview – you name it, I learned it from you. You taught me to be forever curious, relentless in reporting and poised under pressure. The Hatchet is a teaching institution, and as I took on editor positions, I utilized many of your techniques to turn students with little to no journalism background into strong writers who were proud of the stories they told. That is, of course, what you did for me.


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