Donna Armstrong: To all that I learned here

Media Credit: Lindsay Paulen | Senior Staff Photographer

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 came to GW shy and awkward but eager and ready to learn. I didn’t know where I would fit in but knew I wanted to join the student newspaper. 

I don’t remember how it came to be, but I ended up in that musty townhouse basement during one of the first weeks of my freshman year for a photo meeting. As the year passed, I attended more meetings, usually sitting on the floor next to Arielle Bader, and took more and more assignments. I’m sure I was awkward, and I remember being a little scared of the older staff members, especially the ever so elusive Olivia Anderson. I remember being annoyed once because she asked me to redo a very simple assignment that I had messed up. It wasn’t until I worked with her later that I came to understand everything she did was because she cared so much about the paper and making sure we put out the best possible content. 

Toward the end of my freshman year, I applied to be a photo editor for the next volume. I was so nervous I wouldn’t get it because there were other people applying, and some of them were older than me. I’m not sure I even told my family I had applied because I was so sure I wouldn’t get it. I was in the dark room printing for class when I got the call from Olivia that they wanted me to be the contributing photo editor for the news section for the next volume. I was both nervous and excited.

When I led my first meeting, I felt awkward and inadequate because everyone was either my age or older. With time, I grew more comfortable and confident in my role and no longer worried that I was younger than some of the photographers on the team. 

The first day of school my sophomore year, I woke up to a call at 6 a.m. from an overly responsible photographer saying that his residence hall fire alarm had gone off and they had been evacuated. He told me he was taking photos and would send them to me as soon as he could. I then called the news editors to alert them of the story and was up editing photos before I ever wished to be awake. Looking back, this incident hinted at what the rest of my year would look like: up at ungodly hours and constantly on call and in communication with other Hatchet members. If I was expecting a normal year, I was severely mistaken. 

Sophomore year as a photo editor was filled with more chaos and work than I could have expected. But it was also filled with teamwork and friendship. I learned how to efficiently work with others and tried my darndest for the sake of journalism. It was filled with the basement crew talking so much that we sometimes didn’t get enough work done. It was filled with food debates on the whiteboard and staying up until 2 a.m. or later every Sunday to make sure the paper came out. It was filled with Olivia and I blasting “Careless Whispers” by George Michale and Lindsay Paulen and I dancing to the Hamster Dance. It was Sarah Roach bringing dogs to the townhouse on Saturdays (mister Sigur). It was filled with hard work and dedication to put out a paper. It was, however, not filled with sleep. I had an 8 a.m. Monday mornings after Hatchet prodos and all too often fell asleep after getting little sleep the night before. Apparently my teacher noticed because one day he pulled me into the hallway to ask what was up, and I had to explain that putting a paper out on Sundays came before me being well-rested for his class. 

While most of my free time sophomore year was spent at The Hatchet townhouse, and I often felt overwhelmed with the workload, I’m eternally grateful for all I learned and the experiences I gained. And for all the times I was stressed, there were just as many times that I was having so much fun, whether that be because of an assignment or because I enjoyed working with such great people on staff. During my time on staff, I took so many portraits that I lost count. I made photos of the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she visited GW. I covered graduations and protests and way too many Student Association meetings with Sarah Roach. 

When I left The Hatchet my junior year to study abroad in Spain, I knew some part of me would miss the responsibility and satisfaction that came with being a Hatchet staff member and producing important stories and photographs. But I was grateful for the break that most people on staff don’t allow themselves. I returned to staff in a much different and much less stressful role: as a contributing social media director. 

While sadly this last volume was entirely over Zoom and I didn’t get acquainted with so many staff members, it was great to be a member of The Hatchet again. Not everyone may understand the importance of journalism, or more specifically student journalism, but it’s important that someone is telling the stories. The people who work for The Hatchet are some of the most dedicated and creative students I’ve come across at GW. They work so hard to produce a newspaper because there needs to always be an outlet to keep the University and its students in check and also keep them informed. 

I’ll forever be grateful to …

Olivia and Graeme: I know the two of you are way past your Hatchet days and are full blown adults now, but I am continuously grateful for the influential role the two of you played in my time at The Hatchet. Olivia: Thank you for taking a chance on me and believing in me to get my job done when I wasn’t sure I could do it myself. You taught me so much in the year we worked together that I still use today. I will always admire how dedicated you were to The Hatchet and imagine that you are equally dedicated to any endeavor you should take on in the future. Thank you for imparting so much wisdom upon me but also for being such a fun person to work with and being a friend in a somewhat daunting environment. Also, thanks for teaching me how to deal with difficult people and stand up for my choices. Graeme: Thanks for always being yourself and making the most mundane buildings look beautiful. You were such a champion for balancing your thesis project while being an editor and always going the extra mile to help Olivia or I out when we were busy. Also, thanks for always sharing photos of your animals. 

Sarah Roach: Thank you for being my friend from the very beginning of my Hatchet days. It was such an interesting time, to say the least, to cover the Student Association with you sophomore year. You are such a hard worker but you are also such a fun person to be around and work with. I’ve loved watching you be editor and chief and somehow manage being a wonderful and dedicated leader for two volumes. I’m excited to see what you do in the future. 

Lindsay Paulen: Thank you for being an amazing friend and taking on the absolute hell fire that was sophomore year with me. I don’t think I would have made it out standing without you. I’m grateful you made me walk home from The Wing with you our freshman year after we awkwardly met on assignment. Thanks for being a chillie and annoying the rest of the staff with me by blasting the Hamster Dance song. It’s very fitting for one of our last times on staff together to include being asked by a security guard to leave the National Arboretum for taking photos. I’m grateful for our many shenanigans together, and I’m looking forward to many more now that we are washed up and old.

Courtesy of Donna Armstrong

Lads in Maine (featuring Lindsay Paulen)

Arielle Bader: We have stuck through this wild ride together since the start of our freshman year. No matter what is going on, I know I can always count on you for photo or life advice. We have collectively had many different roles on The Hatchet, and I’ve loved watching you handle yourself as an editor. I will forever be inspired by your work and can’t wait to see what the future holds for you creatively. I’ll miss our sunset photo walks and debrief sessions when we graduate.

Courtesy of Arielle Bader

Two young babies on a photo walk (featuring Arielle Bader)

Lizzie Mintz: I’m constantly in awe of how dedicated you have been to The Hatchet throughout your time on staff. I knew I could always count on you to correct my AP Style mistakes and fix the bad jokes I tried to sneak into the Instagram stories this volume. You have been such a positive light on The Hatchet and a great friend. 

Liz Provencher: Thanks for being a great first editor in chief. You struck a nice balance of being stern when we needed to shut up and work and being a good friend when we needed a laugh. I’m sure I will keep in touch with you via Lindsay. 

Cayla Harris: While you intimidated me at the beginning of our time working together, I appreciate that you held me to such a high standard. It made me work harder and hold myself  and others around me to a higher standard. You are such a dedicated journalist, and I can’t wait to see what you do going forward. 

Amy, Sidney and Molly: Amy, it’s been a pleasure to virtually work with you on social this year. I know you will do fabulously next year. Sidney and Molly: I’m excited to see how the two of you expand The Hatchet’s social media presence next volume and wish you both the best of luck next year! 

To everyone I have encountered during my time on The Hatchet, know that I am grateful for any part you may have played in my development as a journalist, photographer and person. I have learned so much from my time here, and every person I came across helped shape my wonderful and chaotic time at The GW Hatchet. 


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