Growing Forward

Candice Lee reflects on start of new academic year, embracing who we are as Commodores

by Candice Lee

Dear Commodore Nation,

Welcome to the next step of our journey. As classes begin, campus buzzes with the energy that only a year’s potential can generate. Everything is still possible. We determine what happens.

For nearly 150 years, Vanderbilt has excelled at maximizing potential because we put our heads down and do the work. I enjoy feeling the renewed energy each new year brings, and I’m excited to be part of it. As Vanderbilt Athletics takes the next step in a journey that began nearly a century ago as a charter member of the Southeastern Conference, it’s time to realize our potential.

We have never been more ready to put our heads down and do the work.

If you ran into me at Hawkins Field during baseball’s memorable run this past spring and saw me on crutches, you know my own day-to-day journeys currently require some assistance. After undergoing my sixth knee surgery in April, my goal was to ditch the crutches in time for a July vacation. That didn’t quite happen, as my body is a bit more stubborn than my spirit—which is saying something. But I’m down to a single crutch these days, and my new goal is to be walking freely when I see many of you at Vanderbilt Stadium this football season.

Surgery and rehabilitation are humbling experiences, but the process also brings me into almost daily contact with inspiring members of the Vanderbilt community. That includes the amazing doctors, nurses and staff of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. It also includes the people I encounter in the athletic training room in McGugin. I always knew our sports medicine staff was great—I’ve benefitted from their expertise for a long time. But as they literally help me learn to walk again, I’m reminded just how instrumental they are for our student-athletes.

Those student-athletes inspire me too. The rehab exercises drive me to tears some days. But being among our student-athletes in the training room encourages me to push on. We’re all working toward the same thing—trying to be the best and healthiest versions of ourselves. As fortunate as we are to have the current training room, I look forward to seeing (if hopefully not experiencing with the same frequency) the new facilities made possible by Vandy United.

I feel as if most of my summer was spent either getting my knees right or working on Vandy United plans. Believe me, one of those was a lot more enjoyable than the other.

By now, you’ve seen our updated plans and aerial renderings for the first phase of Vandy United construction. I know Commodore Nation is eager to see even more because I know how excited we are to work on them.

We met with Populous, master architects for Vandy United, on an almost daily basis through the summer. Their body of work speaks for itself, but it is immensely rewarding to call them teammates. They understand that we want to create something that is uniquely Vanderbilt and is a tangible expression of our values as a community and institution.

I’m excited by the progress we’ve already made and the vision that is taking shape. With Populous and Barton Malow, who we announced will lead the construction effort, the hard work continues. We’re going to create something innovative, inviting and sustainable. Something that integrates our students, alumni and supporters—right in the middle of campus, surrounded by academic buildings. Something that is part of Vanderbilt. That’s who we are, a place that helps students and student-athletes maximize their potential.

We must embrace who we are. Football coach Clark Lea, women’s basketball coach Shea Ralph and cross country and track and field director Althea Thomas chose Vanderbilt because of who we are—not just the sleeping giant that people talk about, but an awakened community of motivated peers. I am eager to follow each of their teams this year, beginning with Coach Thomas’ men’s and women’s cross-country teams at the Mizzou Opener on Sept. 3 and Coach Lea’s football team against East Tennessee State on Sept. 4

Vanderbilt attracts special people. I can’t express enough gratitude to Dr. Ann Price, associate dean for alumni affairs in the School of Medicine, for her service as our faculty athletics representative over the past year. As a former tennis standout, women’s sports pioneer and a member of the Vanderbilt Athletics Hall of Fame, Price embodies everything we are about in allowing student-athletes to pursue excellence on the field and in the classroom.

It is also my privilege to introduce Tracey E. George, vice provost of faculty affairs, as our new faculty athletics representative. An eight-time winner of the Hall-Hartman Awards for outstanding teaching (voted on by law students), she will provide an equally influential presence in promoting a positive student-athlete experience.

I look forward to what awaits. I am also concerned that the pandemic is still with us. The Vanderbilt family has not escaped the heartbreak it has caused, and too many of us know its victims. We will remain vigilant and do everything we can to protect our community. I am particularly grateful to students, faculty and staff for our stellar vaccination rate. That remains our most potent defense and allows us to confidently resume activities. While we look forward to a return to normal, this is a step in the right direction.

As fall seasons begin, allow me to ask for your support, Commodore Nation. We are building something special by staying true to our university mission. Make Vanderbilt a place that the best and brightest student-athletes want to come. Give them the tools to succeed. Do the work. Those were our values when we shared the SEC with Sewanee. They will remain our values when we share the conference with the University of Oklahoma and University of Texas.

With your help, we can turn our potential into championships.

Anchor Down!

Candice Lee Signature

Candice Lee
Vice Chancellor of Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director