For the last time

Maya Lora and Hannah Denham, the 2019-20 editors-in-chief of the Ring-tum Phi, sign-off


Hannah Denham, ’20, (left) and Maya Lora, ’20, (right) in the Ring-tum Phi office.

Maya Lora and Hannah Denham

For many who come to a liberal arts college, the question of what to major in is one that can be solved later and often. But for us, we knew exactly what we wanted to do: journalism. And that meant participating in student news media. We both signed up for the Ring-tum Phi at our very first activities fair. 

We both wrote for our high school newspapers and came into college thinking we had perfected the art of the inverted triangle. We hadn’t. Writing and editing for the Ring-tum Phi for four years played a tremendous part in crafting the journalists we are today, and we found that the learning process is cyclical. We learned from the editors who showed us the ropes of covering a small private university as an even smaller independent newspaper, and we turned around and did our best to teach the younger writers as editors.

Four years later, the Phi masthead reads Editor-in-chief: Hannah Denham and Maya Lora. 

We’ve been on this staff together for four years. We’ve worked on stories together, both in the sense of working diligently next to each other and literally reporting and writing up a feature as a collaborative effort. And for the past year, we’ve had the honor of leading the Phi together, which consisted of, we would argue, the best editorial staff the Phi has ever had the pleasure of boasting. 

Being co-editors-in-chief meant seeing news in the obvious and the unspoken, and encouraging our editors and writers to do the same. It meant that we wrote incessantly, across beats, reaching every corner of campus. If you combine our bylines, we have written nearly 90 stories in four years, covering university building name changes, Executive Committee and Student Judicial Council elections, prominent speakers, Ku Klux Klan leafleting on campus, fraternity hazing, two lawsuits, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s controversy, our university’s own history of blackface, campus housing, student activism, food insecurity, Title IX complaints, and, yes, the coronavirus. 

Sometimes, being co-editors-in-chief required us to be jacks of all trades. Even though sports isn’t a strong suit for either of us, when times are desperate, we’d cover the Saturday football game and create score sheets in InDesign. We would hardly sleep on publication weekends, and survive on coffee and tea and loaded fries from Coop. We would frantically run around campus to take pictures for our writers’ stories on Sunday afternoons before our print deadline. We would then turn around and lead a staff meeting for the next issue. 

It meant working together ⁠— on everything. We had each other’s backs when talking through the ethical implications of stories we worked on and edited. We wrote emails together. We produced our first issue together even though we were hundreds of miles apart for spring term. We stood our ground together when we received the occasional threat from students, professors, administrators, alumni and attorneys for the Ring-tum Phi’s truthful and important journalism. And, more importantly, we celebrated all the wins together: watching our editors and staff writers lead incredible coverage of Mock Convention 2020, receiving a kind email from a reader, getting a tip for a new story, and the thrill that never wavered of sending a new issue to the printer. 

Leading a small paper on a small campus isn’t easy, especially when writers have big essays and finals to tend to. We’ve both written and reported several stories on frenzied nights in the office trying to fill that last bit of space on the page. But we were determined to make this small paper cover the issues that mattered. We might not have the staff or the funding of other big university papers, but we certainly have the might. Student journalism is local journalism, and as residents of both the Washington and Lee and Lexington community, we wanted the stories we published to reflect that. We wanted our stories to reflect you.

Thank you for trusting us and our staff with your stories, your photographed moments and your readership. It has been the greatest honor to cover the Washington and Lee community.