Dear Commodore Nation,
Recently, I was thinking about something my late mentor and dear friend David Williams II used to say. That’s not unusual. I often reflect on David’s wisdom and how much I learned from him during our time together. In this particular case, he had commented that people often mistake change for progress.
Progress involves change, absolutely, but not all change is progress.
Perhaps those words came to mind because they speak so well to what I love about this time of year at Vanderbilt. Commencement celebrates both the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new one. It is a time of change, but a diploma isn’t an acknowledgement of change alone. It marks the progress each graduate makes from their first day as an undergraduate to their last.
To the Class of 2022, congratulations! At Vanderbilt, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of excellence. You welcomed and embraced that challenge, and you persevered and thrived through circumstances that none of us could have imagined when you began your journeys at Vanderbilt.
You looked out for each other. You remained united. And together as a community, with the humility and the courage to face unprecedented times, you succeeded.
When you are competitive and eager to move ever forward, as we are by nature at Vanderbilt, sometimes you don’t give yourself the space to pause. Take that space now. You deserve to savor this!
Though it has been a few years since I was in your place, I still vividly recall the emotions. More recently, I had the great privilege of being inducted into the Huntsville-Madison County Athletic Hall of Fame in Alabama. It was a tremendous honor to be recognized by my hometown, by the people who watched me grow up and grow into the person I am today.
I am grateful for what was a cool opportunity for me to pause. It allowed me to not just look back, but to also look forward to the progress I—and we—still want to make. Chancellor Diermeier captures this energy so well when he reminds us to be proud but not satisfied. That’s exactly right.
You are all going to achieve much in life. In so many ways, you already have. Vanderbilt helped you with the resources you need to maximize your potential, but you did the work. You managed your time, made tough choices and realized the rewards for your efforts. And this is just the beginning.
When you dare to grow, you dare yourself to be uncomfortable, if that is what is best. You learn to find peace in the midst of discomfort, understanding that you’re going to fail along the way to get where you’re going. You learn, too, to seek new challenges in the midst of comfort.
Across all 16 varsity sports that competed this year, and in many cases continue to compete, Vanderbilt student-athletes understand the importance of being proud but not satisfied. Soon, our 17th varsity sport will live by the same creed. Our volleyball student-athletes will be proud when they play their first match. And they won’t be satisfied with merely taking the court.
This isn’t just advice offered up from on high. As a university, we hold ourselves to the same standards. We are proud of who we are—proud to be the only SEC school in the top 15 of U.S. News & World Report’s 2022 Best Colleges rankings. But we aren’t satisfied. It’s that same spirit that led us to launch the Vandy United campaign—the historic commitment to come together and reimagine the future of Vanderbilt Athletics for student-athletes and our entire community.
Change is inevitable, but we don’t want to just change with the times. We want to be a force of progress.
Through your experiences at Vanderbilt, you have built a set of tools that will help you forge that progress on your next steps. There’s a big old world out there, and you cannot foresee everything that is coming. Some of it you may not even understand, but because you carry those tools, you are equipped to deal with it.
As we pause this week, enjoy the end of one chapter. And embrace the challenge of a new one.
Vice Chancellor of Athletics and University Affairs and Athletic Director