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This is Real, This is Me

No matter which path you choose to follow, this experience is all about growing as a person. 



Jalen Dansby, '18, College of Arts and Science

I loved Vandy even before coming here because of the phenomenal academics and opportunity to play football, but I quickly realized it has so much more to offer. After only a week of living in Gillette House, my peers encouraged me to run for house president. I embraced the idea, constructed a campaign—and won. Keep in mind, this happened during the hectic fall football season. Only four weeks in, I was already extremely busy. I was a member of the football team, president of my house, and taking pre-med classes in pursuit of my ultimate goal of becoming a doctor. Then I was elected as P.R. Chair of MAPS, became a member of BSA, VSVS, and a tour guide.

Being a part of these organizations and keeping up with classes was far from easy. My parents raised me to have balance in my life, but this year really challenged that concept. We all get the same amount of time in a day; it is up to us to decide how we spend it. In order to keep my sanity and remain successful in all of my commitments, I had to manage my time well. 

A regular week consisted of workouts on Tuesday–Friday at 5:30 a.m.–8:00 a.m., going to class, returning to the athletic facility at 2:00 p.m., having meetings, practice, more meetings, then physical therapy until about 7:00 p.m. Which left just enough time to cram down some dinner, host my weekly house meeting, get changed into a suit and tie for senate, and then do some homework. Nights before a big test or assignment, it was simply more convenient to sleep in the locker room to save time. 

Sometimes you have to sacrifice minor things you want now for major things you want down the road. That is the biggest lesson I learned this year. Don’t throw away tomorrow’s dreams for today’s desires. Most importantly, stay optimistic and positive; don’t count the days, make the days count. As Vanderbilt students we are all blessed with a great opportunity and must take advantage every day!

Engineering and art DREAMING OF DISNEY

Maggie Wang, '18, School of Engineering

As a computer science major, the biggest assumption people make is that my only passion is coding. Even when I share that I am also a Fine Arts major, I am still labeled, first and foremost, an engineer. But, the last place you will find me is in Featheringill, typing away on my computer. Instead, I will likely be procrastinating for my next coding project by sketching or doodling on Photoshop. Even my Facebook profile is void of Hackathon events and tech ads. Instead, my photos and videos depict the life of an animation enthusiast and world traveler.

A conversation with me reveals that I know French and Mandarin better than I could ever hope to know softwares like Java and C++, though I am also deeply passionate about computer science. Studying both computer science and art requires creative problem solving. Studying them together brings balance to my life. I draw freely to balance the rigid guidelines for programming and the black-and-white math formulas, and the company of creative minds allows me to think imaginatively when designing my next mobile application. A deeper look at my web browser activity will show that I follow the research Disney conducts in the process of creating innovative animation software. My passion for foreign cultures stems from my hope to code for a company like Disney that could send me anywhere in the world, requiring global immersion.

Though I’m a computer science major, I pride myself on my artistic and cultural interests. My time at Vanderbilt has shown me that no one person is the same. Everyone has a combination of interests that makes them unique. There’s no single pathway to success, but I know if I continue to pursue what I am most passionate about, I will find a place for myself in the world and a success that allows me to blend all of my interests and talents.


Hannah Waters, '19, Peabody College 

I came to Vanderbilt sure as the sun that I would know my place as soon as I set foot on campus. But this feeling was far from the reality of my transition.

I began the school year as a member of the Spirit of Gold Marching Band, one of the largest spirit organizations at Vandy. As soon as my family’s car drove up, I was whisked away and immediately given a new home. Doing something I loved with people that were just as passionate about it as me was amazing, but after several weeks, I realized I wanted to form more connections with the other first- years. So I came back to The Commons.

First, I started attending dinners at Dean Beasley’s home and was exposed to people and opportunities I did not know existed. I even grew closer to the Dean herself and gained the confidence to reach out to other administrators for everything from advice on how to be successful on campus to a one-on-one interview for a class. I tried to take advantage of as many opportunities as I could on The Commons, looking for my community, my place.

While participating in events, running from meeting to meeting and rushing through my classwork, I found I was still lonely. The people I met in organizations were awesome, but I was afraid to reach out to people beyond the meetings, feeling like I was imposing. It seemed everyone else had already found their place, while I was still searching. I realized that I needed to step outside of my comfort zone.

East House’s smallness lends itself to a tight-knit community, but I had yet to experience it. Late one night, one of our peers broke down emotionally, and right away the typically blasting music was silenced and the door closed for privacy. We listened to them talk about their past and current struggles at college; I couldn’t believe how a still-new group of friends could react with such compassion. I knew then I wanted to make genuine connections with these people. After seeking my place all over campus, in the end, I found my community - my home - in my house.

I have come to realize that no matter how prepared you think you are, the transition to college may still take you by surprise. I know now that I do not need one identifying group of people to belong with, rather my place is spread among different parts of campus that together make Vanderbilt home.

Don’t worry if it seems like it is taking a long time to find your place. For some people it comes quickly, but for others it takes a while. As long as you do not limit yourself, pursue your passions and take chances, you’ll find the community or communities that make you feel like you belong. 

BEING BLAIRKatie Parcelli

Katie Parcelli, '18, Blair School of Music

You may think being a Blair student means you are one of approximately 200 Vanderbilt students who studies music, but it means so much more. It means recognizing every face you see in the hallway. It means you have 30 people in your largest class and as few as 3 people in your smallest. It means taking music history and music theory instead of calculus or chemistry.

During finals week you won’t find us up late cramming in Rand or Central Library, but in Blair practice rooms. During the lunch rush, we probably won’t be in the Randwich line.  Instead, we’ll be in the Blair student lounge, also known as the “Blounge” (It is Blair custom to add “Bl-” as a prefix to everything). We eat the same meals every day from Suzie’s Cafe inside Blair and occasionally power nap on one of the lounge’s many couches.

Instead of astrophysicists, our faculty includes professors who have studied at Juilliard, been Grammy-nominated, played in renowned symphonies, and toured with artists like Sheryl Crow. (I still have to try to play it cool when Jeff Coffin, who has won three Grammy’s and played saxophone with the Dave Matthews Band, nonchalantly passes me in the hall.)

Being a Blair student means waking up every day excited to go to class because you get to learn about what you love. Most of all though, being a Blair student means being a part of a community of peers as passionate about making music as you are, a community that feels like home.

Although we spend a lot of time in our brick building on 25th and Children’s Way, we are not isolated. We take non-music classes and pursue second majors. You can find us at Vanderbilt games, or actively involved around campus in clubs, performing arts groups, and Greek life.

Despite our hard work (blood on the strings, sweat from the walk from main campus, and tears from sight-singing in musicianship), our major is often invalidated. If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what I plan to do with a music degree, I would probably have more money than I will when I graduate. Engineering, political science, and education majors do not get asked the same tough questions that Blair students do. But a music degree and a music career are just as valid as a career in law. If you want to understand why someone would choose to major in music, ask yourself what you would do without music in your life.

Music is togetherness, inspiration, and solace, and it provides us with an outlet for what we cannot express in any other way. We want to share our music with you. We could not live in a world without music.  If you need music as much as we do, then take a walk and join us.


Kevin Groll, '16, School of Engineering

I came to Vanderbilt from the West Side of Cincinnati, which is best described as a small town. Most residents are second, third, and fourth generation West Siders, and people grow up destined to stay forever. Being a West Sider always gave me a sense of belonging, an identity of which I am still proud, and one that bonded me from an early age with thousands of other people. The first question any West Sider will ask is where someone went to high school; the second is where someone went to grade school - because all West Siders enjoy only one degree of separation.

When I arrived at Vanderbilt, it felt like I had relinquished that sense of belonging. I did not know a single person, and the community and friendships I had valued throughout my childhood were now a few hundred miles away. Classmates often talked about Greek Life as the place to discover that belonging. But, the idea of a fraternity was something I did not understand – the term rush confused me and I could not begin to decipher the Greek letters I saw on the sides of the houses.

I eventually decided to rush at the urging of my roommate, though I was reluctant to even try. Greek Life back home did not have a good reputation and was seen as an artificial way of making friends - I never thought “paying for friends” would fill the void leaving home had left. Yet, in the fraternity I would eventually join, I finally found my sense of belonging at Vanderbilt: the brothers at Alpha Tau Omega (ATO) who made me feel like I was back on the West Side. Many had come from small towns themselves, were raised with the same mentality of community, and were longing to find that belonging at Vanderbilt, like me. I soon found my home away from home and discovered that same sense of pride in my fraternity identity.

My brothers have challenged me and supported me since the day I joined. When I ultimately decided to pursue leadership in ATO and the Inter-Fraternity Council (IFC), it was all made possible by the confidence and growth that they inspired. I wanted to help lead the next generation of fraternities, so men like me could find their place in the fraternity community, like I had. As a member of my fraternity, I learned how to challenge those around me to grow and how to have difficult conversations with brothers I love. I have had opportunities to sit down with deans, vice chancellors, and even the chancellor himself to discuss initiatives to make positive change at Vanderbilt, opportunities made possible by my decision to go Greek. My fraternity experience has been both tumultuous and empowering but it has made all the difference in my Vanderbilt journey. I thank my brothers and ATO for my growth as a man during college and for giving me a second home.