Dani Grace: Finding my own form of advocacy

Media Credit: Courtesy of Alex Zoch

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.

In high school, I suffered from “big fish, small pond” syndrome. I thought my performance in the next musical would be the talk of the town or that surely people would be thinking about the fall’s homecoming game months afterward. I filled my days from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., shuttling myself between school and practice and rehearsals with barely a thought about how I impacted the outside world.

After I decided to attend GW, in a “big” city with thousands of people working to generate change on national and international levels, I realized just how small of a bubble I had been living in.

Foggy Bottom is still a niche environment, but I was suddenly surrounded by so much more drive and culture and opportunity than I had previously encountered. I still wanted to pack my days with new activities and try my hand at everything, but this time I wanted to ensure I could feel the mark my work left on the world.

Then I joined The Hatchet and started taking journalism classes. I soon learned that journalists were highly encouraged to pocket personal advocacy to ensure that our articles were free of bias.

As a journalist, you don’t sign petitions, you limit or eliminate the number of political conversations you enter and you’re careful about what you post on social media. How quickly my vision of attaining Twitter fame for opinionated quips flitted out the window.

This new understanding brought me to the conclusion I couldn’t be the memorable, strong-voiced campaigner I had planned to become.

Throughout my four years at the paper, however, I realized I had become one of the biggest activists in the community just in the myriad articles I wrote or edited and published.

We student reporters conducted interviews, crunched the University’s budget numbers late into the night and ran down the street to be the first to report about a student group protesting to lobby administrators for change in one area or another.

The founder of Twenty Tables, who runs a program that offers discounted meals for students at D.C. food trucks, told us he decided to approach GW about the partnership after reading The Hatchet’s coverage about student food insecurity.

We once interviewed more than 20 students in a residence hall who said they’d been living without hot water for weeks, creating unsanitary conditions. Just days later, the residents received an email that officials had added money to their GWorld accounts as compensation for living so long without consistent water and that workers would be looking into the problem.

We’ve helped student groups spread the word about resources for students or community members in need. We’ve documented local leaders’ partnerships with the District Department of Transportation to construct bike lanes in the neighborhood.

We’ve shed light on the University’s problem areas brought in lawsuits against administrators or departments. We’ve given a platform to small business owners worried about their stability in the community among construction or new competition.

One of the best parts about joining student news was learning that not everyone’s favorite book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves – Hatchet staff members are often aspiring journalists, but we’re also future international affairs, finance, psychology and computer science specialists.

Despite our differing backgrounds, I’ve forged tight friendships with students who share the same passion for storytelling and keeping administrators accountable.

We’ve learned first hand that the countless hours of interviewing, writing, videoing and editing has brought visibility to groups that might not have the resources to advocate for themselves. And I’ve learned that just because I have strong opinions or a desire to be a catalyst for change doesn’t mean I have to suppress my activism – it means I channel that activism in the topics and people I report on.

Looking back, I’m proud to have spent so much time getting to know the Foggy Bottom and GW communities and realize now I can use the written word to attain that level of social responsibility I was looking to fulfill.

I’ll remember college as the four years I spent making a difference in the community, one interview, article or 15-hour newspaper production day at a time.

I’m immensely fortunate to have so many people who impacted and supported me these last four years that I could fill 60 pages with my gratitude for them. Here is just a small sample of who and how:  

Courtesy of Alex Zoch

The administrators: From President LeBlanc to Dean Petty to VP Laguerre-Brown and everyone in between – thank you for the countless interviews by email, in 2000 Penn and Rice Hall and even over Zoom! It’s not easy to make choices on behalf of 25,000 students plus faculty and staff, but you all show up and try harder each day. Keep listening to the students. 

The GW media relations team: I’m sure when you applied for this job you didn’t know how much of it would include liaising with the school’s student newspaper. Surprise! Thank you for working with us to produce content each week, even if we were publishing a story that didn’t put the school in the best light. Maralee Csellar and Crystal Nosal: you have gone out of your way to explain to administrators why they should put trust in us. Thank you for the extra time (including weekends) you have taken to gather quotes and information to ensure we report well-rounded, informed stories. I hope you get some well-deserved relaxation this summer!

The sources that make the news go ‘round: I’ve learned an extensive amount from all of the local store owners or student leaders or experts I’ve spoken with over the years, and I’m grateful to everyone who told a story or lended insight. James Harnett, some weeks I spoke with you more than I did my parents. Thank you for setting aside time for interviews (and more interviews) so we could accurately report on and communicate with the community. You have incredible drive and vision, and I’m excited to see where you go next. 

Leah: Your compassion and consideration is so important. Thank you for always showing that to me, no matter what position you were in. I’m looking forward to reading your work holding people accountable for their impact on the environment. Keep me updated on the state of the bees.

Elise: My first editor! Thank you for showing me the ropes of a news article and advising me on how to move up. I owe the start of my passion for The Hatchet to you. 

Justine: I’ll never forget how kind and patient you were when transitioning me into the Metro editor role. I knew I had big shoes to fill, but I couldn’t have grown into the position without your support and impressive reporting skills. 

Monica: I remember furiously discussing why we weren’t being promoted to staff writer immediately after joining the paper. I mean we were working! So! Hard! Your dedication and diligence have pushed me to excel in my own positions, jobs or internships. Thank you for being an amazing classmate, roommate and friend. 

Kelly: Whether in classes or on The Hatchet, I always looked up to you. You’re organized, smart and get the job done. I’m so impressed with all you’ve accomplished (Washington Post?! You know that’s right) and look forward to seeing your byline many more times.

Sam: Few people can match my intense appreciation for Harry Potter, but somehow we found each other. I’ll always remember your consistently cheery persona, proclivity for townhouse antics and incredible photography skills. Gryffindor rules.

Lillianna: Before I even stepped foot on campus freshman year I was told about an incredibly hardworking, talented person at the student newspaper I had to meet at the org fair. You were one of role models throughout college and have been supportive even after graduating. Thank you for taking a chance on me and showing me why student journalism is so important. 

Meredith: If you searched the words “unapologetically yourself” in the dictionary, a picture of you would appear next to the description. I’ve laughed so many times with you (and at you) and can’t imagine what my Hatchet or SMPA experience would have been without you. I truly cannot believe the audacity of some of the people we’ve witnessed together. Your directness and down-to-earth personality are refreshing and unique. Although my PR work has prompted you to label me a “sell-out” on more than one occasion, all I’m really doing is practicing to spread the word about you once you’re famous.

Andrew: You headed an inexperienced but energetic news team with taste, patience and insane know-how. You were an amazing leader from whom I learned so much. Thank you for helping me grow, even though I was really intense (crazed?) in my editor interview. Your mentorship meant the world to me.

Liv: We didn’t know each other super well, but I was so impressed with every front page this year. You seriously took the paper to a new level. I’m excited to see what you do in this new volume. Don’t forget to keep Parth in check for the rest of us.

Lizzie: You were one of the most willing and hard-working reporters I’ve ever encountered, and I’m glad you found your way back onto staff. Keep that same passion for reporting next year!

Ilena: You are a dedicated, thoughtful and talented person and reporter. You clocked way more hours than your position requires just to ensure your team got stuff done. Although news is losing a Real One, I look forward to seeing what you do in web and design!

Zach: I’m still not really sure what Head Boy Scout of America does (Put out campfires? Whittle bird whistles?), but I could tell you were a born leader from the second you joined my Metro section. You have done great things at this paper, and I know you will continue to do so all while keeping tabs on administrators via LinkedIn alerts. 

Shannon: A sustainability icon! Your progress this past year has blown me away. You’ve become a brilliant writer and an excellent section leader. Your composure and kindness are admirable traits. Thank you for constantly sharing them with me and the news team. 

Makena: Not only did you manage to take on an extremely hectic beat as a freshman, but you put out the best SA Guide this paper has ever seen – all while taking a full load of classes and joining a sorority. Your organization, good-naturedness and willingness to learn will carry you very far. I’m so happy to have been able to work with you this semester and am ecstatic you’re staying on. Lmk how the SA lawsuits go next year. 

Jared: Being SNE is one of the most rewarding positions. You’ll learn a lot about GW and yourself. This year you’ve upped your pitching and editing game and have taken on the role so naturally that I’m confident the news team is in great hands. Take a deep breath every once in a while, and don’t forget that you’re also a student who enjoys time to do fun things.

Lia: My mini me!! I had no idea when you first stepped onto the Metro team how far you would come. I’m incredibly proud of how much you’ve progressed since you started as a reporter and again as an editor. You took the section to new levels and have produced some incredible in-depth stories. I’m excited to see what you accomplish in your second half of college. I know you’ll excel in every area.

Courtesy of Alex Zoch

Jarrod: In your writing this year and throughout transition, I’ve seen how well Lia and Makena have prepared you for this role. Take good care of Metro. Sorry if people call you J-rod, it’s my fault but also maybe consider a career in baseball.

Cayla: I wasn’t scared of you (sorry), but I was definitely scared of letting you down. A journalist to the core, you took everything that came our way in stride, and I am so lucky to have had someone as smart, hardworking and driven as you to guide me. I’ve thought about your reasoning, advice and examples so much to the point where I considered getting a WWCHD tattoo. I truly didn’t realize how much I relied on you until every other sentence while I transitioned Jared started with, “Cayla would never let us do ‘xxx’ because” or “Cayla would always say.” I loved working with you and for you. P.S. thanks for always singing along. We are The Muses.

Parth: You are without a doubt the smartest person I know, and you know it. But even though you like to pretend you’re tough and can’t be caught dead showing affection, really your heart is a Faberge egg just like the rest of ours. I’m glad I got to learn that about you this past year. I couldn’t have done the SNE job without you. Even though we didn’t always agree, I could always count on a firm handshake of solidarity at the end of the day. Thank you for your help, whether it was explaining (solicited or unsolicited) economics, roasting the news editors or other sections, grabbing a story for me or maintaining composure even when people were REAlly dumb. Despite your all-consuming hatred for the journalism major, you are one of the people most passionate about making this paper and its staff the best it can be. I can’t think of a better or more qualified person to be managing editor. Good luck with your unrelenting hostility for other sections, specifically sports. I look forward to the call I get when one day they finally stick it to you good. You’re the Ron to my Leslie, always. Don’t let the newsroom bits die. *hand guns*

Sarah: You really didn’t let me quit. I said senior year was my time to learn new things, broaden my interests and spend more time with my friends. You straight up said “not today, it’s prodo,” and we never discussed it again. But in the end, I accomplished all of my goals – with your help. I learned how to report on sensitive topics and lead with grace in tough situations, even if it means not getting what you want. I became increasingly curious about how other student journalists operate. I formed tight bonds with this year’s news team, and you became one of my best friends. Not a day has gone by this year without us texting, calling or hanging out, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If anyone’s going to have a two-year EIC stint, it should be you. Your ambitions for this paper are exactly what this rag-tag group of aspiring storytellers needs. You’ve led us in reporting through a pandemic. Your kindness, humility and loyalty are amazing traits that make me so proud and thankful to have been your colleague, coworker and friend. If it’s alright with you, I’ll still talk to you daily after I graduate. Your intellect, generosity and passion are going to take The Hatchet to new heights next year, but don’t forget to do at least one thing for yourself each week. 

To My Non-Hatchet Supporters

My professors: I wouldn’t have loved all of my classes without an incredible network of faculty. Dr. Cheers, your courses were built on essential skills and common sense, both of which will eternally serve me well. Thank you for your fierce determination for our success. Prof. Zuckerman, from freshman to senior year, I’ve been in awe of how much you’ve done in the news world. Thank you for checking in and mentoring me, either as a student or reporter. Prof. Roberts, the care you have for your students is evident in everything you do. I’m incredibly grateful for your support and all of the thought-provoking discussions we had, even if we didn’t always agree. Prof. Thompson, you are one of the most accomplished people I know. You’ve taught me indispensable life and reporting lessons. I’m lucky to have had you twice. 

Erik and Nikolai: Since the 8th floor of Potomac House, I knew I could count on you guys for anything. Thank you for always being there for me – rants, complaints, homework help, laughs and nights out or in. Your friendship will be one of the things I treasure the most from GW, and I can’t wait until we all meet up again.

And they were roommates: who all bore with me on my late nights – Syd, thank you for reminding me to remain authentic and consistently hyping up the women in your life. You inspire me to own up to who I am and be confident in that person. Carly Cathryne, I don’t even know how to sum up a friendship like ours. I’m cracking up whenever I’m with you and am grateful for all the nights we kept each other up talking about stupid or meaningful things. I can’t wait until our next nosh. Rachie, I hope you actually read this, unlike your emails. Since our first blind friend date (thank you Kayla/Natalie) to rooming together for three years, your expansive knowledge base has constantly awed me. Thank you for reminding me why reading is important and being calm and logical when I was the opposite. You were my first college friend who turned into a best friend for life.

Alex: We might go months without speaking, but we always end up having heart-to-heart talks when we reunite like we’re in sixth grade again. I love hearing about how much you’ve grown as a woman. Your everlasting compassion and initiative will lead you to do amazing things.

Shia and Nat: Few people tempt out the most ridiculous parts of me, but within three rings of a phone call to you I already am laughing in anticipation of what we’ll talk about. You’re two incredibly strong, passionate, beautiful, talented sunflower goddesses I corn’t imagine my life without. Andante, andante. 

My Beautiful Best Friends: Han, B and Court, who managed to stay close from 3,000 miles away. I could go two years without talking to you and it would feel like nothing has changed, but I’m glad we usually can’t make it two days. Whether it’s shown through advice, gossiping, recipes, a listening ear or meme sharing, your steadfast love has been an anchor for me, especially when I decided to go to school on the opposite side of the country. I can’t wait until our next slumbie. 

Thomas: Of the 14 years I’ve known you, this past year has been one of the best. I’m so proud of everything you’ve accomplished and how hard you’ve worked. Thank you for making me laugh and not getting too mad when I live-quote Harry Potter movies. You keep me in check, help me think things through and remind me to take a deep breath when I make mountains out of molehills. Even when I don’t have confidence in myself, you do. Can’t believe you had a crush on me in elementary school. Kinda embarrassing.

Uncle Woody: Your words of wisdom and success have helped me keep my eye on the ball for much of my life. I’ll keep striving for the top 10 percent, whether it’s a leadership position or grades or anything else. I’m grateful for role models like you.

Aunt Kate: You’ve pushed me to be my best in school, athletics or being kind to others my whole life. Thank you for being a benevolent and inspiring force in my life.

Mom and Dad: I’m sorry for all the times I couldn’t FaceTime, rants you didn’t fully understand, rushed phone calls on my way to budgeting or prodo and perhaps a few moments where you might’ve thought I wouldn’t make it out alive. I hope you can see how much your unconditional support meant to me these last four years. Thank you for understanding how important this paper has been for my maturity, skill building and friendships throughout college and for caring for me through it all. Alec, you’ve been working so hard this year even though you weren’t in school. That will serve you so well at St. A’s. I am immensely ecstatic that you get another four years to live out your passion on the ice and look forward to watching myriad snipe + celly combos. I love you all very much. 

Mischief managed.

~30~

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