Growing Forward: Signs of Progress

"Building something to last takes time, but we savor the victories and progress along the way."

by Candice Lee

Dear Commodore Nation,

From coast to coast and everywhere in between (especially Omaha), I enjoy seeing and meeting Commodore Nation when I travel. But I truly wish I could have flown you all to Fort Collins and squeezed you into the visiting locker room at Canvas Stadium in the moments after our football team’s victory over Colorado State. It had been a long time since those student-athletes were able to experience a locker room that felt like that, and I won’t soon forget it.

I loved seeing the unguarded emotion from those young men, the sheer joy on their faces. Trailing on the road after a tough opening loss, we had our character tested. These young people decided that it wasn’t too late to respond and to commit to affecting the outcome. That was a beautiful thing to see. I felt their energy as I stood on the sideline in the fourth quarter. No one was resigned to losing. No one was afraid to fail. They resolved to move forward together.

Afterward, they didn’t celebrate as if the job is done. They celebrated a moment they earned through hard work—but they understood that the moment is part of a longer journey. As athletic director, witnessing the scene in that locker room was a privilege. As a former student-athlete, it was a trip down memory lane. Those young men will have those memories forever.

Tangible reminders of progress are important. When you’re building something the right way, something that will last, progress often occurs slowly and out of sight. That is the case with Vandy United—the largest effort of its kind in university history. It’s a big project that reimagines our athletics footprint for generations to come, and some of that, of necessity, takes time. But it’s not all about what’s down the road, so it’s important to share that progress happens every day.

The spirit and vision at the heart of Vandy United are imbued in improvements that are already completed or nearing completion. Commodore Nation has experienced this in the enhanced game day experience at Vanderbilt Stadium. It’s also there for our student-athletes.

In addition to plans for a new men’s and women’s basketball training facility, seen on the aerial map of the first phase of Vandy United construction, both of our basketball teams will soon move into new state-of-the-art locker rooms. Led by George and Cathy Huber’s generous gift to enhance facilities and support services for men’s basketball, the locker rooms represent a multimillion-dollar investment that will improve the student-athlete experience this academic year.

The locker room is a hub for any team. As a student-athlete, it’s your space before and after games and practices, obviously. But it’s also where you go between classes to find camaraderie or simply some peace and quiet. That space is home. I remember in our basketball locker room, each locker listed the previous occupants. You share the locker room with teammates who become your brothers or sisters—but also with the extended family of the program.

Earlier this year, a generous anonymous donor pledged to match all gifts from our women’s basketball alumni up to $500,000 to honor the 28-year career of women’s athletics pioneer June Stewart. We are rapidly approaching that goal thanks to alumni who care about those who came before and after them as much as they do about those they played alongside. That’s the power of a locker room.

And as I witnessed at Colorado State, a locker room is where a small group of people come together with a common purpose. That’s what we want for all our student-athletes.

Commodore Nation is also a team. We stick together. Vanderbilt is one of just four schools in the top 16 of the U.S. News and World Report 2022 Best Colleges rankings that also compete in a Power 5 conference—and the only one competing against the best of the best in the SEC. We believe we can excel in both because of the caliber of student-athletes who want to be a part of Vanderbilt and because of the support they receive from our fans, alumni, faculty and staff.

Last week I made a quick trip to California to share our Vandy United vision and to spend time with alumni at a San Francisco Giants game. Watching Curt Casali and Mike Yastrzemski in their element, while reminiscing with several other former student-athletes who joined us at the game, I was reminded of the amazing people we get the privilege to serve every day. These people loved their time at Vanderbilt because they were surrounded by peers and a support network that matched their energy.

While I’m at it, allow me to take a minute to applaud the team I get to work with as part of university administration. Chancellor Daniel Diermeier makes very clear how much he believes in athletics as a natural extension of the university’s mission. From the launch of Vandy United through the College World Series and a new fall season, you see how passionate he is about the Commodores. You don’t get many opportunities to see that kind of unified vision.

Vice Chancellor for Finance, Information Technology, and Chief Financial Officer Brett Sweet was on the trip to California. At the College World Series, we could have put together an outfield from the vice chancellors who made the trip to Omaha. And I heard from all of my colleagues after football’s win at Colorado State.

Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Cybele Raver has already been a fantastic partner as we think about ways that we can work together to support the student experience, including that of our athletes.

Across the board, we have great support. My colleagues support what we’re doing. Vanderbilt has always been an amazing place to work, but the teamwork now is something special.

There are going to be weeks when we don’t get to celebrate victories, when we wake up feeling only disappointment. That’s because we are fierce competitors. That’s the nature of sports.

There will be days when it’s difficult to picture what will rise from the ground as various construction projects continue. That’s the nature of a project like Vandy United.

But our vision isn’t for the distant future. With your support, we’re already hard at work on making it reality. And when resilience is rewarded with a victory, or we open the doors to new locker rooms, we need to celebrate it. It’s all part of the journey for our team.

Anchor Down!

Candice Lee Signature

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