Ilena Peng: Fridays at the townhouse

Media Credit: Courtesy of Ilena Peng

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.

My last real day of college was a Friday with the kind of spring weather that usually brings all of GW to sprawl across University Yard and Kogan Plaza. The cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin were nearing peak bloom, but the ones near The Hatchet’s townhouse had already bloomed.

I went to the 609 21st Street building that March morning as a reflex. Fridays are our news team work days. But given that we had already spent the week writing sentences that ended in “amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” I’m not sure why I expected anyone to be there.

I sat in the empty newsroom for half an hour, finishing up work and trying to take my mind off of the disconcerting silence that had already filled the townhouse and Foggy Bottom. I was happy to have the company of two other news editors when I returned to the building later that day, where we covered the first of many online Faculty Senate meetings.

We said goodbye to the townhouse when we left, not really knowing when we might see it again as we loved it most – full of conversation like it had been just a week earlier. Fridays might have been for working, but they were also a time to create inside jokes, bond with new reporters and learn about our campus.

I have never felt more supported and fulfilled than I did leaving the townhouse at 5 p.m., knowing that I had helped someone with their work and someone had helped me. I always felt that I had learned something about GW or D.C. that day.

Most Fridays ended there – tired and happy from a day of reporting and writing. But the best ones ended at the Kennedy Center, where I would spend the evening watching a ballet. These days were my reminders of what I loved about the District and how lucky I was to be learning there.

Courtesty of Ilena Peng

It’s hard to find that same inspiration in a pandemic. My bedroom is a weak replacement for SMPA, the Kennedy Center or 609 21st Street, but there have still been moments of contentment. I finally had the opportunity to work outside of The Hatchet’s news section. I held a plank for two minutes. I made a video for my senior capstone that I was proud of, even though none of the interviews could be done in person.

I never imagined that I would be writing this article at home in the same place where I wrote my senior column for my high school newsmagazine. I always thought I’d be writing this on a Friday in The Hatchet’s worn-out but well-loved townhouse. But I am happy to be writing it nonetheless, with the same gratitude I always knew I’d feel when I left GW.

Saying I’m grateful for GW is really just a blanket statement to express how fortunate I feel to have met so many incredible people at this university. What follows is a list of some of those people.

Shanny – My Hatchet ballet buddy! I have been in awe of you since the first academics meeting, when you showed up at 8 p.m. on a random Tuesday with a perfect outfit and makeup. I know your dedication to the work that you do, from writing for The Hatchet to choreographing for Balance, will take you so far (but also remember to rest, of course). I miss talking about ballet with you everywhere – in the townhouse, at the monuments, during intermissions – and hope we will get to enjoy a live show together soon enough.

Lizzie – Thank you for guiding me through my first two positions on The Hatchet, introducing me to the concept of putting tater tots on pizza and taking many walks with me. Some of your food takes are mildly terrible but as your Hatchet little, I will always aspire to have just a bit of the tenacity that you approach your work with.

Jared – I remember being so excited the first time you edited my article as SNE because I knew you would be such an excellent leader. SNE is such a tough job, and I know it’s even harder with an entire volume online, but I have been constantly impressed by everything the news team has covered so far. I can’t wait to see what you do next. And thank you for being one of my closest friends on The Hatchet – it was a privilege to be a star baby, research assistant and news editor with you.

Ciara – You are such a sweet, dedicated person. I’m so proud of the work you’ve done, especially since event coverage has changed so much during the pandemic – I could not have thought of a better blog editor for this volume. It’s unfortunate that we weren’t closer before this semester, but it’s better late than never. I will miss your laughter in the townhouse, in the classroom and everywhere else. We all couldn’t help but laugh with you too!

Lia – You will always be a metro queen to me, even though you’re in health and sciences now, but the truth is that you excel at whatever you do. I’ve been lucky enough to be both your editor and your reporter, and you are one of the most reliable people I know. Your interesting remarks and your love for rats will haunt me, but they will also be some of my favorite memories of The Hatchet.

Zach – You practically lit up when you worked, like that time you reported on license plates and when we wrote an article on D.C. politics an entire week early, before we had even finished our drafts for the current issue. That excitement about your work always cheered me up, even that one time that our reporting day was going so poorly that we had to entirely swap positions to have any luck getting things done. And on an entirely separate note, I really will miss seeing “The Order of the Arrow” in my Zoom meetings.

Tiffany & Makena – Both of you brought such a wonderful energy to the newsroom from the time you started out as reporters, and I could tell that we had some Hatchet greats in the making. The two of you handle one of the hardest beats on the news team but make it look easy. You are truly a power team, and I look forward to all that you will do in the second half of the volume.

Alec – Yet another original member of team academics! I’ve always known you were a good reporter, but I’m continually surprised by the naturalness with which you approach new mediums, like podcasting.

Aaron – It was such a privilege to be on the small but mighty web team with you. Everything you create for The Hatchet is so beautiful, and I’m glad to have seen the behind-the-scenes work that goes into it all.

Falyn – You are one of the kindest and smartest people I know. I’ve always appreciated your company during our 8 a.m. class or 6 p.m. class or our 2.5-hour-long classes in general. And thank you for recommending Sweetgreen’s chicken and brussels salad. Hopefully we can get one together again soon!

Lauren – I was in good hands with you as my first editor at The Hatchet, and your willingness to trust me with so many stories forced me to learn quickly. I’m inspired by all the work you do now and can’t wait to keep reading your articles when you become the amazing political journalist that you’re already shaping up to be.

Parth – Part of the reason I took so many blogs when I joined The Hatchet was because you always made the process run smoothly, even if I forgot to respond to your texts for two hours (sorry again). As SNE, you constantly had our backs, all while being the reliable source of humor that we all love to hate you for. There was no such thing as a boring newsroom when you were there, even when we were covering the first of many virtual Faculty Senates on the loneliest Friday ever. Blogz editors emeritus 4ever!

Dani – When I first joined metro, I kept hearing about you as the perfect example of a Hatchet-life work balance that I hadn’t thought was possible. Watching you in action as SNE, I continued to be amazed by the grace with which you handled your job (and Parth’s shenanigans). In some ways, I am glad I never had to spend a newsroom work day without either you or Parth there because it really wouldn’t be the same.

Sarah – Thank you for guiding me when I was a reporter starting to write student life stories and for trusting me as a staff member when I was figuring out where I wanted to be on staff. There is plenty more I could say, but I don’t think I need to – all of us on staff are thankful our leader is someone as thoughtful, smart and kind as you.

Anjini – Though we are usually on separate coasts, college wouldn’t have been the same without you. Thank you for watching meteor showers with me, editing so many essays/texts/emails and introducing me to earl grey tea, among many other things.

To my professors – It has been an incredible privilege to study at GW and at SMPA. Without you all, I wouldn’t have a lot of the skills I now consider second nature. I wouldn’t have a sense of direction of where I wanted to be after graduation either. Thank you for all your support, knowledge and advice.

To my family – For making all of this possible.

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