Growing Forward: Owning the "V"

When Commodores dare to grow, anything is possible.

by Candice Lee

Dear Commodore Nation,

Earlier this week, a friend from my undergraduate days stopped by my office. He and his daughter, a high school student, were about to take an admissions tour. Doing the math on what that said about the passage of time made my knees ache a little bit more that morning. 

We swapped a few of the old stories that we all slip into so easily when around fellow alumni—whether it has been days or, as in this case, years since we’ve seen each other. As they left to start the tour, he had one more question. He and his daughter knew Vanderbilt was more diverse than it once was. They knew we’re more competitive and more global than ever. But he wanted to know if the sense of community was still the same—in other words, if his daughter and her friends would one day tell their own versions of the same stories. 

I wouldn’t still be here if I had any doubts as to the answer. Vanderbilt remains that place because we dare to grow, secure in who we are. Facilities are updated or replaced. Generations change. And, yes, we refresh symbols from time to time. But the university that we love is still the same in all the ways that are most important. 

Our challenge, and our responsibility, is to build on our core values, to use them to grow and to leave this university better than we found it—as those who came before us did. And as much as we have and will continue to pay tribute to the past, Vanderbilt isn’t a museum. It is a dynamic, vibrant institution committed to helping students reach their full potential. The only way to do that is together, as one Vanderbilt. 

We cannot just say it—we have to show, do and be it! Our refreshed visual identity uses an updated and consistent “V” as the basis to demonstrate the spirit of collaboration and the sense of community that defines us. As I told some of our student journalists recently, the direction that we’re moving as a university, including as an athletics department, is to be more than we’ve ever been. To aspire to new heights together. We are technically the smallest school in the SEC, but if we bring to bear all the talent we possess across this university and community, we’re giants.   

That’s what it means to own the “V.” It’s a bold goal. We want people to look at the “V” and know it’s Vanderbilt. Whether it’s the baseball, bowling and tennis teams that won national championships, or our scientists, artists and writers, our “V” should stand for excellence in everything we do. 

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier challenged us to clearly articulate our shared identity, and that process eventually included our logos and marks. We knew the change to our university symbols was going to be emotional. Change always is. After being a part of (at least) four logo refreshes at Vanderbilt since 1996, I truly understand that. And yet, this time is different—not because of the symbols themselves, but because of the collaboration that went into them and what that means. We have never been more aligned. What we’re doing is a tangible illustration of the connectivity across this university—again, including athletics. 

I respect that some people who love Vanderbilt won’t like the new marks. In almost two years in this job, I’ve not yet come across an issue or initiative that generates unanimity of opinion. We only hope that it is clear that this process was a thoughtful one. 

The Star V is not going away, but it has been updated. I used to have a banner on my office wall that showed four iterations of a Star V dating back to 1969. This current refresh gives us the 2022 version, and my guess is that there will be more to come long after our time. Some of our coaches prefer the updated version, while others don’t want a Star V at all and wish to use the anchor or the block V instead. And still others want the updated version that places the V on top of the star. These varying perspectives show the need for a flexible, yet consistent, system—feedback that coaches shared throughout the process. What is not flexible, though, is owning the universal symbol that says we are all on the same team. 

Owning the V is as much an internal goal as it is an external one. Even with our current marks, there has not been consistency in symbols or even in the colors we’ve used across our sports. Now we can show that whether you’re on a sports team, in a laboratory or in a classroom, we are all united. One Vanderbilt. 

We know in athletics that to be a successful team, you’ve got to give up some part of yourself for the greater good. I don’t think it’s silly to think about this process in that way. This feels like the appropriate next step in our quest to move forward together. 

I saw plenty of that unity in practice throughout March, as our men’s and women’s basketball teams thrilled us with their performances in the NIT and WNIT. I sat with Chancellor Diermeier for one game and Provost C. Cybele Raver for another. I think every senior administrator made their way to Memorial at some point during the month. Some of them barely got to watch the games because they stepped in to work the concession stands when we were short staffed. Again, that’s about people putting in the work and giving of themselves. Across our entire staff, people rolled up their sleeves for each other.  

We still have more work to do to ensure that who we are is recognizable and distinct. We shouldn’t be afraid of that work. We should dare to do it. We should dare to grow. 

As I attended our basketball games, it was jarring to see the space where Parmer Field House used to be. Honestly, it’s a bit discomforting. I liked the familiar outline, unchanged since the days when I went to and from practice. But I think about what is going to rise in its place, the new basketball facility made possible by Vandy United. Reimagining our footprint allows us to grow. It allows a new generation to energize and shape our community. 

It’s not always going to be an easy process, launching a construction project in the middle of a busy campus, but it’s important. And there’s no time like the present. That’s a good summation of our approach to much these days. 

We imbue symbols with meaning, not the other way around. Our work leads to success. Our successes create the memories that make us cherish our symbols and wear them with pride. 

As we refresh, the impressive momentum across all our teams and student-athletes continues. Congratulations to our bowling team, who just repeated as Southland Conference Champions (and for the fourth time in seven years)! Let me also say a word about our basketball teams, who have just wrapped up their seasons. Their run over the past couple of weeks are a great reminder that we’re going to see our men’s and women’s basketball programs own March in the future. The NIT and WNIT were the next steps in our building process—necessary steps because there are no shortcuts. 

I’m not surprised that Jerry Stackhouse continues to improve our men’s program because I see what he does every day. I’m not surprised that Shea Ralph helped the team she inherited maximize its potential because I see what she does every day. And I could go on and on. 

Our success is incredible to see, but it’s not a surprise. And, again, it’s definitely not easy. 

So … to my friend’s daughter, who wondered aloud if the sense of community that her dad distinctly remembers is still part of our DNA … the answer is YES. And we will do our part to ensure it stays strong while also forging ahead to reach our potential. That is what happens when you dare to grow, together. 

Anchor Down, 

Candice Lee Signature

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