Alumni Recall Richard Avidon’s Nearly 25-Year Career as Augur Bit Advisor

Richard Avidon, a long-time and much-beloved History teacher at Georgetown Day School, stepped down last year from his role as Faculty Advisor to The Augur Bit. In total, Avidon spent nearly a decade on the job—and, over the course of his tenure, mentored more than 22 editors-in-chief of the paper, some of whom have gone on to pursue journalism at prestigious national outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post.  To celebrate Avidon’s career across the last almost quarter-century, The Bit tracked down and asked old editors of the paper to recount their favorite memories of Avidon.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Mark Berenson, Opinion Editor ’99, GDS ’00: In the June issue of the Bit my junior year, we ran a sports story about how one of the top student-athletes at the school, Garrett DeCock, was transferring to another school. This led our witty editor in chief to pen the headline “DeCock Pulls Out.” And Richard’s comment on the proof was something to the effect of: “You all decide what you want to do.” That sort of trust and deference to the student judgment (or lack thereof) was what made the Bit such a fantastic learning experience.

Marc Tracy, Editor-in-Chief ’03, GDS ’03: I can’t remember the exact topic, but once when I was writing the issue-opening editorial Richard urged me to take an argument that was more strongly in defense of freedom of speech. He persuaded me on that argument, but I recall thinking then that he was just pushing his pro-First Amendment lawyerly bias. What I now see is that in addition to that he was getting me to think about how to be a thinker, how to be a journalist, and even just plainly how to run a student-led high school newspaper.

Jonny Dach, Editor-in-Chief ’03, GDS ’04: There aren’t enough up arrows in the conventional bitdom’s lexicon to adequately capture what Richard did for the Augur Bit, its editors, and the institution it chronicled. Richard did more than advise the Augur Bit: he championed it. We took the Bit seriously because Richard took us seriously. Though he was, on paper, the paper’s advisor, he was also, and enduringly, mine. In improving my articles, columns, and truly terrible house ads (not to mention, years later, my grad school application), Richard improved the way I tell stories and make cases to this day.

Johannah Lowin, Editor-in-Chief ’04, GDS ’05: You know the security questions you have to answer to recover a password? Like, “What is your mother’s maiden name?” or “Who was your first pet?” I always choose “Who is your favorite teacher?” because the answer is impossible to forget. Thank you, Richard, for always challenging me, supporting me, and inspiring me.

Laura Zax, Editor-in-Chief ’06, GDS ’07: This past year I’ve been reflecting on just how important rigorous, honest, and independent journalism is for society. It’s a lesson first instilled in me by Richard. He never treated us like we were just kids writing just a school newspaper. To the contrary, he helped us editors understand our role to be much bigger than what we might have imagined when we signed up for the job. We were there to start and shape a dialogue about the most important issues facing the GDS community, and that community was a stronger and better one for having had it.

Julia Halperin, Editor-in-Chief ’06, GDS ’07: Just how much blue is there? That’s the first thing I checked when I got pages back from Richard. I’d flip through each page to see how many notes—never in red pen, always in blue—he’d left in the margins. He always made us feel like our ideas were worthwhile. And he continued to push us to make them sharper. Ten years later, I’m the one leaving notes in the margins as an editor. I only hope I can make the writers I work with feel a fraction as motivated, and as capable, as he made me feel I was.

Sara Wallace Beatty, Editor-in-Chief ’07, GDS ’08: It’s hard to find the right balance of giving advice and giving ownership as a faculty advisor, but Richard somehow did. As Augur Bit editors we were able to take on a startling amount of responsibility without ever feeling adrift from the wisdom of a seasoned editor. I’m grateful for the immense amount of time, dedication, and manila folders full of edits that Richard gave us at the Bit. I know he’s shaped how we each of us think, write, and influence today – thanks Richard!

William Tomasko, Editor-in-Chief ’08, GDS ’09: When I was working on my first issue as editor, I handed him a plain manila folder of drafts that were ready for his review. He had plenty of insightful edits for the articles, but he also had some feedback on the folder: it was a little drab. He was right, so I added stickers to it. His feedback always inspired me to hold myself to a high standard, but he also knew how to find ways to laugh along the way. Richard: Thanks for encouraging me to spruce up that folder, and for all of the ways you’ve made me a better writer, editor, student, thinker, and person.

Jacob Anbinder, Editor-in-Chief ’09, GDS ’10: My last editorial column I wrote about some improvements GDS could make, one of which was that the school should get rid of AP classes. It was intended—and I think he understood it—as a tribute to the time I’d spent in his US history class, which is known to prepare students far better than any official curriculum. Years later, I’m now a graduate student studying American history, and between his careful newspaper editing and careful explanation of the Compromise of 1850, the time I spent with Richard has had a profound influence on everything I’ve done since.

Sam Gilman, Editor-in-Chief ’10, GDS ’11: Richard taught me to write, and he forced me to ask tough questions because I knew he’d always ask them of me.  I am grateful to have had Richard as an advisor – I learned as much from him as any teacher or coach I have ever had.

Molly Roberts, Editor-in-Chief ’11, GDS ’12: I made a lot of mistakes in my time editing The Augur Bit. Most of them no one noticed. Not so for a misspelling of a certain teacher’s last name. Minutes after we distributed the issue including the typo, an email arrived in my inbox from the instructor in question excoriating me for my lapse, with Richard cc’d. And minutes after that, my phone rang. It was Richard. He was calling to tell me it was okay. No one had warned Richard I was upset. He just knew, because he knew me. And he knew how to make me feel better.

Alec Ward and Daniel Meyer, Editors-in-Chief ’12, GDS ’13: Maybe more than we would both like to admit, Richard’s teaching and stewardship of the Bit were our defining experiences of GDS. Proudly delivering an article only to find it bloody with red ink the next day forced us to learn how to edit and, therefore, write. Richard believed in rigor. We just believed we were right. Although we sometimes chafed at Richard’s edits, we are grateful today for the high standard they forced us to work towards. To Richard, thank you. And to future editors of the Bit, you have it easy now, chumps.

Ian Stevenson, Editor-in-Chief ’13, GDS ’14: At the Augur Bit, Richard pushed me to write and think clearer in every article I submitted to him. His high expectations kept me in the Bit’s office deep into many evenings as I tried to untangle my phrases and refine my ideas. The hours I spent with him encouraged me to be curious about our world and scrupulous in my attempts to understand it.

Matthew Gerson, Managing Editor ’13, GDS ’14: Aside from my parents, no person has shaped the way I see the world more than than Richard. The cumulative effect of hundreds of hours spent with him inside and outside of the classroom reformed me as a thinker. To this day, Richard’s fingerprints are on nearly everything I write. When Richard returns a draft—his sprawling cursive filing the margins—he tends to pull few punches. Sometimes his disapproval stung, but in a pedagogical age defined by its coddling of young minds, I am ever-thankful for his frankness.

Hannah Natanson, Editor-in-Chief ’14, GDS ’15: We had a running family joke in high school. Whenever my parents spotted me clacking especially furiously on the computer, or came downstairs in the morning to find me sitting in the kitchen, having worked through the night, they’d ask—“What are you working on?” It was funny because the answer never changed. I was—always—working on something for Richard. Not because he demanded it. He inspired it. Richard, you fundamentally changed how I think. You also fundamentally changed what I think I’m capable of doing. I can never thank you enough.

Jacob Roberts, Managing Editor ’14, GDS ’15: When we screwed up colossally (as we often did), my co-editor Hannah and I would argue about who had to tell Richard—not because he was harsh or mean, but because we knew of his high standards for the Bit, respected the work he put into the paper, and didn’t want to let him down.

Ian Ward, Editor-in-Chief ’15, GDS ’16: Richard relentlessly (some might say stubbornly) held us and our work to high standards. As frustrating as this could be in the moment, it made me a better editor and a better journalist. On behalf of the staff of 2015 and the manufactures of manilla folders everywhere, thank you, Richard, for you stewardship of the Bit​.  

William Gerson, Editor-in-Chief ’16, GDS ’17: I will always remember Richard as a fair and even-handed faculty advisor who achieved the perfect balance of editing without censoring. When Sarah and I received some backlash from some left-leaning faculty members for publishing a right-leaning editorial written by a student, Richard had our backs and immediately swooped in and took care of the matter for us. Richard was a true champion of free speech in a school in which that right was sometimes under attack.

Sarah Pillard, Editor-in-Chief ’16, GDS ’17: Richard always pushed me to fill gaps in my argument and write much more convincing articles. This is typical of Richard’s style as a faculty adviser. Richard never censored our articles, and in the end, he would, for the most part, let us publish what we wanted to publish. But he was stubborn in his beliefs and this consistently pushed me to articulate my arguments better. I have many fond memories working with Richard, both on the paper and during APUSH and Constitutional Law!

By: Hannah Natanson, former Augur Bit Editor-in-Chief ’15


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