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The VU From The Commons

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Read about the experiences of the people who can most often
be spotted around Commons. 



Ames Sanders, '14, College of Arts and Science

Four years ago, a little slow
I left my parents’ car
And found myself in a Southern storm
That told me I’d come far.

I stood alone ‘midst brick and stone
As rain tore into loam
Reflecting on how strange it felt
That this should soon be home. 

To Vanderbilt from far and near
We came to learn and see;
We never thought that these few years
Might make us family.

Some first-time things we can’t forget
Like seeing the redbuds bloom,
Or coming back in at the end of the night
To ask—are they having sex in my room?

Or lying on a summer’s lawn
With Frisbees sailing ‘round—
Or those few times the snow slipped in
To silence every sound. 

With Gilchrist, Buckles, Stubbs, and ___
Some of us…struggled to pass…
While Intro Chem and Calc midterms
Just knocked us on our…GPA.
(What did you think I was going to say?)

We all got lost in Stevenson
And grumbled every day
That the back-and-forth from Commons
Was a walk uphill both ways! 

Our meal plan problems sometimes caused
A little indigestion,
And Vandy Vans were oft held up
By Friday night congestion. 

But comedy and humor made
Our little griefs seem slighter
When other things at home and abroad
Made it hard to think brighter.

We bonded over movie nights,
Through concerts, parties, shows—
And Visions gave us all a place
To share our highs and lows.

Now politics and creed would sometimes
Tear us half apart,
But clubs and sports and Greek Life
Gave us somewhere new to start.


And Vandy pride we took in stride
As from the stands we cheered—
We looked ahead and for awhile
The path looked oh, so clear.

But like the number of Rand Brunch sides
These years have seen us wane—
Through transfer, and through tragedy,
Through loss, and fear, and pain.

Sometimes stress and hardship
Give our lives a desperate tone;
We’re all afraid that, leaving here,
We’ll just end up alone.

When jobs and living scatter us
Will our friends just move on?
Will anyone here remember us,
Or will we be just…gone?

But though our names and faces
Can—and have—and will soon fade,
Our hearts, in beating, mark these walls
With every hour we’ve stayed.

We are—so strong!—Our arms—reach long—
And though we rise and set,
We’ve been part of something more than ourselves
Since the moment that we met.

And so, let’s never forget these hands
That grasp and keep us warm.
But when we finally leave this place—Class of 2014—
Let’s take the world by storm. 

Moving Commons


Elizabeth Covington, Senior Lecturer in English, College of Arts and Science, Faculty VUceptor

Working as a VUceptor is the most rewarding part of my job at Vanderbilt. When I first began, I didn’t have the first idea what to expect, and I was amazed and delighted to find myself in the heart of a close-knit community of brilliant young students, each eagerly creating his or her ideal college experience. Working with these students individually and as a group, I am reminded of why I became an academic: to foster students as they shape themselves into the productive, critically-minded, fun people they want to become.

We laugh a lot in my Visions groups, but we also do a lot of hard, thoughtful work about the kinds of people we want to be. The key element to producing this intellectually exciting atmosphere is always my VUcept partner. As a faculty member, I have learned that VUcept is a student-focused operation in the way that the university was meant to be. My student partner, Jacob for the past two years, takes the lead in conversations and activities, and I am only too happy to follow the amazing young people who have co-facilitated Visions groups with me over the years. Thanks to their example, I have become a better teacher and scholar as I import that student-centered focus into my classrooms and my writing. My VUcept partnerships have taught me that, although I have a great deal of education and experience, the soul of the university resides in the fresh and vigorous minds that arrive each year to seek and learn.

Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned as a VUceptor is that the university is remade every year, with every new group of students. The strength of the university rests in our ability to change and grow, and the Visions program is the most important element of that process.

Jacob Shpilberg, '17, College of Arts and Science, Student VUceptor 

Becoming a part of the VUcept community has proven to be one of the best opportunities of my Vanderbilt career. When I first became a VUceptor, I thought I was becoming a friend and mentor to first-year students—someone they could lean on, just as my VUceptor was for me. But this experience has given me so much more.

The growth I have witnessed among my 35 VUceptees over the past two years has been the most rewarding part of my journey as a VUceptor. I firmly believe that through a combination of our dynamic group discussions and countless conversations over lunch one-on-one, each of my VUceptees has discovered the ways in which they want to be active citizens of our community. I’ve enjoyed a front row seat as my VUceptees transform each semester and each year as they immerse themselves in those organizations and communities that are aligned with their passions. It’s been extremely rewarding to help those of them who have struggled to make the transition gain confidence, watching them find community in our Visions group and elsewhere on campus.  

This is why I continue to be part of the VUcept family.  Seeing growth in my peers and having the chance to foster it for a new group each year has only furthered my personal growth.  I have learned to lead a group discussion, and to build group cohesion and meaningful relationships with my VUceptees.  I have also learned a lot about the Vanderbilt community — especially, the diverse opinions, experiences, and backgrounds found in the student body, many of which differ from my own. This has helped me gain an understanding of the importance of each individual and each voice. Self-expression is one of the most amazing things that Visions allows first-year students to explore; something that translates well beyond the bounds of our weekly sessions.

Finally, through cooperation with my faculty partner, the spunky Elizabeth Covington, I have gained insight into the genuine concern Vanderbilt faculty have for students. Last year, we had a student who struggled to adjust to the change from her small town to Vanderbilt; Elizabeth took our VUceptee under her capable, caring wing, and I truly believe the student is still at Vanderbilt because of Elizabeth’s guidance. In my final year, I am excited to see watch my former VUceptees continue to flourish across campus, and I can’t wait to see what the Class of 2020 has in store for us!


Lucas Wesoloski, '18, College of Arts and Science

Lucas WesoloskiLet me be the first to say that my first-year experience on Commons did not go exactly as I had planned. I started off struggling with my academics and could not find an organization on campus that fit what I wanted to do. However, thanks to my RA, Sam, I was able to buckle down and start doing better in my classes. Sam introduced me to new organizations on campus and helped me expand my network. He played a huge role in my decision to become an RA in North House my sophomore year. 

As I got to work alongside Sam in the same house I had lived in my first year, I started to witness my residents go through a lot of the same struggles I was faced with when I was in their position. Residents often think that RAs are always “out to get them” or trying to limit their fun; however, it is simply that our number one priority is your safety. So today I am eager to welcome you as the Head Resident of North House, where I hope you’ll find the same safe and empowering community I myself was able to find as a first-year.

Living on The Commons and balancing academics with social priorities can be stressful for first-year students, but the same goes for RAs. I am excited to get to know each and every one of the residents in North House next year; just don’t forget why we RAs and HRs are here. We are always trying our best to ensure you have a wonderful Commons experience. We will be here for you through the highest highs and the lowest lows and can act as resources and friends. I cannot wait to support you as you explore the opportunities here, and become engaged in The Commons – so take part in the things that happen here because you will get out of this experience what you put into it. Don’t let this year pass without engaging in conversation with your faculty head of house, chatting with your RA after class, or doing service with your peers who, all together, make this a tight-knit community.  Welcome to The Commons!


Zaria Williams, '19, College of Arts and Science, Student VUceptor 

Tips to survive and thrive during your first year at Vanderbilt

Tip #1: Embrace your discomfort. For my first few weeks of college, every day was filled with new people, new experiences, and new feelings. But I quickly fell into a pattern of talking to the same few people, eating lunch in the same spots, sitting by the same person in class, and going to certain types of campus events. I was aware of the thousands of other people on campus, but didn’t know how to break out of my shell. If you find yourself in this situation during your first year at Vandy, I encourage you to start small. Do something once a week that makes you uncomfortable. If this doesn’t happen to you, if you get uncomfortable you’ll be growing as a person and steadily gaining confidence. I once also volunteered to serve dinner at the Asian New Year Festival on campus. As a black girl, my initial thoughts were I don’t belong here. But that night I did more smiling, laughing, and meeting new people than I’d done in a long time. People will tell you to put yourself out there, but I recommend that you put yourself out into a “there” that is completely unknown and uncomfortable for you. You never know what kind of friendship, skill, or experience you could gain! 

Tip #2: NEVER pass up a Rand cookie. Every now and then (or every day if you’re like me), it’s good to indulge and do (or eat) something that makes you happy. As a pre-med student, I quickly became wrapped up in a routine that involved a lot of studying and little time for other things. For a time I didn’t appreciate being on campus, and struggled to find spaces and things about Vanderbilt that I genuinely enjoyed. Delicious, hot, chocolaty Rand cookies were something I used to find a minute to sit down and really think about the goodness surrounding me. Stress relievers of any kind are essential to mental and physical health. Take time to be alone and focus on yourself. 

Tip #3: Be dependent on others. You’re in college and you can finally be free and independent - to an extent, that is. My first year in college was simultaneously the most fun and most difficult time in my life. In my opinion, the more you ask for help, the better it will be. I don’t mean rely on other people for everything. But please, allow yourself to lean on your friends (new and old), family, VUceptors, RAs, professors, or whomever you need. The first months of college were hard for me, but I felt things getting easier when I shared my problems with my student VUceptor and RA, who I knew cared about me and wanted to help. Never underestimate the power of a hug, and don’t be afraid to ask for one. In a similar vein, though you’ll undoubtedly hear this fifty times in your first month of school, I’ll make it fifty-one: GO TO OFFICE HOURS! Your professors want to help you more than you know; if you honestly need an extension on a project or paper you might get it, but only if you ask. I learned my first year that, yes, sometimes you do fake it until you make it: make the best of situations, and take things one day at a time. But also, be vulnerable and show when you’re struggling.

Tip #4: Enter every Commodore Cruise you can. This tip also serves as my advice to you to read your emails and go to events even if they don’t seem like the fun “college” events you had in mind before you left home. Commodore Cruises are put on by the Vanderbilt Programming Board, and students enter raffles to win fun trips around Nashville like historical tours, concerts, and much more. The Nashville Predators hockey game I attended will forever be one of my favorite Vanderbilt memories. There will also always be events going on in your house and other houses. I can’t encourage you enough to go to as many as possible. Through Commons events, I’ve learned to swing dance, played laser tag, eaten unlimited free miniature donuts, and seen the baseball team play at First Tennessee Park! On and off campus, there are endless experiences to enjoy and memories to make.

Tip #5: Be your true self. All sides of it. I know this a cliché you’ve been told since kindergarten, but when I first came to Vanderbilt, I thought I could reinvent myself without really knowing who my “self” was. I believed that after high school, I had to be “better” in every way and mold myself into that perfect Vanderbilt student. I wanted to be a leader, earn good grades, make a bunch of friends, and impact people’s lives, all while undergoing a challenging transition. But, I realized the people I looked up to on campus made Vanderbilt a better place just by being themselves - by talking to people, sharing good and bad experiences, and trying to be authentic, present, and personable. In my first year, I saw many new sides of myself, some I liked and some I wasn’t so sure about. But I know now it’s important to embrace all parts of myself, because you never know which of your experiences could help or impact someone else. Be patient with the awkward, sad, lonely, funny, weird, and amazing parts of yourself, because they are all important in the growth of not only you, but the people around you.

students walking