Growing Forward: We Can, We Must, We Will

"While we should celebrate our history, we best honor our past by building on its foundation."

by Candice Lee

Dear Commodore Nation,

Along with our cross country and track and field student-athletes, coaches and staff, I had the great pleasure this past Sunday of listening to three-time Olympian DeeDee Trotter speak at the team’s banquet. If you want to find someone who understands what it means to work hard and how it feels to reap the rewards, you can’t go wrong with a two-time gold medal winner.

It was an inspirational experience for our student-athletes (and for me), and something Trotter said remains lodged in my head. She talked about embracing pressure as a positive to reach your potential. She reminded the group that it’s all about perspective, and the journey to becoming a champion starts with you. By the end of her talk, the entire room was repeating her mantra of “I can, I must, I will” and were motivated beyond belief.

Coming just days after our distance medley relay team broke a seven-year-old school record at their meet in North Carolina, her words had additional resonance.

For all of us, we believe that with the opportunities before us at Vanderbilt, the rewards are great for those who dare to try.

This was all on my mind as I watched the VandyBoys locked in a back-and-forth series with Oklahoma State on Saturday, while our lacrosse team was in the process of beating Notre Dame just a few hundred yards away. And I thought about “Dancing Dores,” a group comprised of our very own student-athletes who raised $25,000 for pediatric cancer research through their efforts as part of Dance Marathon the same day.

It was a poignant reminder of all that our student-athletes are capable of—that we have the privilege to create a community that nourishes their potential and positions them for excellence. In some cases in the past, maybe we were performing in spite of limitations. Maybe. But we don’t need to be those people. It is time for us to catch up with our vision.

Saying that is one thing, of course. Doing it requires hard work. Earlier this month, as part of Black Football Pioneers Weekend, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier and I were honored to host our pioneers. Some of these men hadn’t been back to campus in more than 30 years. It was important for them to see, from the top of the university on down, that their efforts are appreciated. They deserve to be celebrated. Their courage made us a better university, but their efforts didn’t finish our journey toward equality. We continue that work to this day, and it must be a collective effort.

I had a similar thought as I prepared to speak with Billie Jean King as part of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series. As we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, we can’t afford to treat the fight for equality as merely history. It’s ongoing, as we saw this week with a settlement in the U.S. women’s national soccer team’s equal pay lawsuit. King’s life is a reminder that there is always progress to be made. (I encourage you to register to watch the conversation with King on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. CT so you can hear directly from her.) She is truly a legend, an icon and an inspiration.

While we should celebrate our history, we best honor our past by building on its foundation.

Amid so many standout achievements recently (congratulations to our men’s golf team on winning The Prestige tournament title), swimmer Kailia Utley set a school record in the 100-yard butterfly during last week’s SEC Championships. We should celebrate her. She and her teammates, many of whom set personal bests at the meet in Knoxville, accepted the challenge that Trotter talked about and thrived with the opportunity. But we also owe it to them to continue to give our swimming program additional resources. If they’re going to be poised for long-term success, we have to address their facility issue. That work and so much more is ongoing, and we understand the importance of it. We owe it to all student-athletes to make sure everybody is poised to succeed at the highest level.

The bottom line is that investments, resources and environments need to match our vision and our goals. That is the vision of Vandy United. It’s also why touring our new men’s and women’s basketball locker rooms was an emotional experience for me. The women’s locker room is almost as much a part of me as my childhood home or the first place I lived on my own. As a student-athlete, the locker room is your space.

I know the significant work and support that made transforming the locker rooms possible. And still, walking in for the first time, it was difficult to wrap my mind around what I was seeing. I knew the locker rooms would be great, but they are even better than that. And that can apply broadly. We have an opportunity in this moment to do something with Vanderbilt Athletics that’s even better than what some people can conceptualize.

That energy keeps me going in ways even coffee can’t (and I love coffee … and, more importantly, creamer!). During recent opportunities to engage with donors and alumni in Houston, New Orleans and Memphis, I saw firsthand the excitement for Vandy United. In another of many trips to Kansas City to visit Populous, master architects for Vandy United, I was again invigorated by seeing the vision continue to take shape.

We choose to be Commodores because there is no better place to be a student-athlete. We have the degree, the city and the SEC. But that doesn’t mean we can’t always be better.

We’re thankful for where we come from. But in order to go where we want to go, there are some things we’ve got to do. And we are.

We can. We must. We will.

Anchor Down,

Candice Lee Signature

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