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Oh, Say Can You D.C.? Our Essay Contest Winners

How does that song go? You don't know what you've got till it's gone?

I thought about that as I was picking my favorite entries in our "What Does It Mean to Be a Washingtonian?" essay contest. Many of the essays shared that as a theme: Washington as a place remembered, moved away from, happily returned to.

It's fitting. After all, people say the Washington area is transients, full of people from somewhere else. The truth is, a lot of us come from here. Many of us left and came back. Many of us came here and realized this is where we belonged all along.

Emilie Karrick Surrusco
For our winner, Emilie Karrick Surrusco (left, with son Liam), returning meant seeing a Washington she'd never experienced before.

Is her Washington your Washington? Maybe not. But read all four of my favorites and I think you'll find your Washington in there.

In fact, taken together they form a sort of composite of "Washingtonianness." There's Renee Sklarew, cataloguing the benefits and frustrations of living here. And there's Tina Parks and Kristin Stadum, each not knowing exactly what to call herself before arriving at the same conclusion: I am a Washingtonian.

Maybe you identify more with 91-year-old Joanne Howell, whose essay online voters picked as the winner.

I wasn't surprised to see a familiar school of thought arise in some of the essays. It's the rather rigid definition of who can be a Washingtonian. Not born here? Sorry. Live in Rockville or Fairfax? Nope. Born in the District, moved away, then moved back? You forfeit your right.

I favor a more expansive definition. And besides, if you've only ever lived in D.C., what can you compare it to? One thing our winners have in common is a bit of distance from our city, an absence that makes the heart grow fonder.

Share your thoughts, and take your own stab at answering our question, in the Comments section below. And join me at noon for my online chat. That's what a Washingtonian would do.

By John Kelly  |  February 27, 2009; 6:39 AM ET
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Years ago, from 1976 until 1987, I lived in Kalorama. One weekend I was in Philadelphia and there was an arrogant couple in front of me getting coffee. While waiting I remember asking them where they were from and they replied, “we’re from DC.” I remember asking them where in Washington they lived and they said, “we live in Dale City.” I couldn’t let this pass so I said to them, “oh, you live in Virginia, I thought you said you lived in the District?” Of course they said, “it’s the same thing.” I remember taking this tact because the only thing I could do was vote for the President and I really lived in the District. The District is a special place. I still believe unless you actually live there, then you live near there. C'est la guerre.

Posted by: mark2008 | February 27, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh, Say Can You D.C.? Our Essay Contest Winners
How does that song go?

I been singing it wrong all these years.
I thought it was "Jose, can you si?"

Posted by: Robbnitafl | February 27, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Mark2008, you were on point with your comment. I am tired of people who live in Maryland or Virginia telling others, they are from D.C. They don't live, vote, or pay taxes in the District of Columbia. They are Maryland and Virginia residents, not D.C. residents.

Posted by: Ward4DC | February 27, 2009 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I work in downtown DC and live less than 1 mile from the DC line in Silver Spring. I have lived here almost 20 years. I typically say I'm from Washington DC since SS is not a terribly well-known place - we're not even an incorporated city. But you know what; I don't think I will anymore. The incredible self-righteous tone so many people take on this issue is too much to bear. People from DC are obviously better than people who don't live in the City. I guess it's just a fact.

Posted by: socoblogboy | February 27, 2009 2:04 PM | Report abuse

When traveling abroad referring to Dale City, Arlington, Silver Spring, or say Takoma Park, it is easier to just say "Washington DC" or the "Washington DC Metropolitan area" as a reference point. The sanctimoniousness of some who even go as far as to abbreviate DC as D.C. and then become indignant when others refer themselves as living in "DC" is breathtaking.

Posted by: garrafa10 | February 27, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

I have lived here for 5 years now, 2 in NoVA and 3 in DC proper. When I am in the local area and people ask me where I live, I say the City, and when I lived in NoVA I said NoVA. When out of the area and people ask, I have always said DC.

Posted by: g_loizzo | February 27, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

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