Conquer and Prevail
Your time at Vanderbilt may not always be easy, but with a strong community and lots of resources, you won’t be alone. Take the time to embrace your fellow Commodores and learn from one another.
I could not have been more excited to come to Vanderbilt. My brother, cousins, and older friends loved their experiences, and this was MY TIME. Everyone seemed certain I was going to love everything about school, so it never occurred to me that this might not be the case. Unfortunately, my first semester at Vanderbilt did not go according to plan.
The reality of “Vandyland” did not meet my expectations. At first, I couldn’t put it into words, but the excitement I thought I should be feeling was replaced with a feeling of emptiness. I kept telling myself that more new friends, a particular meeting or sports practice, or another football game would make the emptiness disappear. Instead, when these events didn’t bring this turnaround, I became more and more discouraged. Even worse, everyone else seemed to be having the time of their lives. Not wanting my parents to worry, I tried not to mention it. But by Family Weekend, I said to my mom for the first time: “I hate this school.” Although it was difficult to explain why, there were a few things I was able to verbalize.
I did not know how to deal with the shallowness that I felt dominated student culture. Whereas I had been passionate about my role as an athlete in high school, here I couldn’t find anything I truly cared about. Worst of all, I wasn’t myself. Not that I was being fake to make other people happy, but rather I felt as if a part of me was missing. Usually a happy, outgoing, and relatively funny person, I was so miserable that I actually noticed the few instances I smiled. The fear of losing myself drove me to apply to transfer for second semester, which was one of the best decisions I ever made. The moment I sent the application a weight lifted off my chest. With a way out, I saw my situation with fresh eyes.
Towards the end of the semester, things began to turn around. I talked to upperclass students who had gone through similar experiences, developed relationships with a couple of professors and with two people who are now my best friends, and I committed to two student organizations. Suddenly I didn’t feel so alone. I wasn’t the only one who had struggled on this campus. With more interest in my work, more laughter in my life, and an outlet for my energy, I told my family over winter break that I would stay at Vanderbilt, if a few more things fell into place second semester.
Everything has fallen into place. Reaching out to other students and faculty and furthering my engagement with campus has connected me with so many fantastic people. My advice: no matter how many times you feel like things are not going your way, put yourself out there and keep trying.
Andrew Brodsky, '18, Peabody College, Student VUceptor
At times, it seems the problem on our campus is that everyone is just too talented. There is someone here who is better than you at everything, and without any effort at all. They’re double majoring in chemical and biomedical engineering, studying abroad, and feeding 2,000 starving children at a food bank in Tanzania.
The even greater problem on our campus, though, is that we don’t want anyone to see us struggle. What do we do, if we don’t put our failures out in the open for others to identify with? We bottle them up, giving them agency to grow and devour our sanity. We bottle them up to evade weakness, afraid it will scare off the friends we work so desperately to hold on to. And the price is isolation, insecurity, and depression of our fellow students and ourselves. I challenge you to uncork that bottle and let your story pour out. Here, I’ll go first.
I’m a junior, double majoring in HOD and communication studies. Of course, I don’t want to admit that I’ve actually changed majors 17 times, twice entertained the idea of dropping out (once to be a florist, the other to be a New York cabbie), and had four mental breakdowns because I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.
I’ve been to several appointments at the Psychological and Counseling Center. I’ve also cried for ten minutes straight while looking at their website to make an appointment and convinced myself that there was something wrong with me, because I knew no one else who went there.
I was in the alternate pool to be an RA, applied to be on Honor Council but didn’t get an interview, and was rejected from ‘Dore for a Day and tour guides. I barely made a C in Chem 102 my fall semester and withdrew from Math 150 because, apparently, I’m not nearly as good at those subjects as high school had led me to believe. But, I still have to constantly placate myself, because I’m still awesome and proud of what I’ve experienced...and everyone I know goes through those exact same struggles.
Well, that’s me.
Now swallow your pride, step out from behind your facade of felicity, and expose the insecurities and doubts and worries that keep you up at night. Don’t let these so-called failures and deficiencies tear you down in silent solitude. It will be a comfort to many to know that they aren’t facing these issues alone. We will all be better for it.
Jackson Vaught, '16, College of Arts and Science
The first year of college can be difficult for anyone—moving away from home, finding new friends, adjusting to class…the list can get quite lengthy in terms of what can complicate the transition.
During the spring semester of my first year at Vanderbilt, I experienced something unexpected that made the transition take on a new level of difficulty. The loss of my grandmother was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever undergone. Not being able to spend every Sunday afternoon on her back porch while away at school had been hard enough, but the thought of never being able to make any more memories with her was almost unbearable. As a result of her death I had to take off a week from school to go home and be with my family, and the thought of getting behind in class added a new layer of stress on top of the already devastating grief. However, I soon experienced something else that was very unexpected: the overwhelming support of the Vanderbilt community.
Losing a loved one while separated from your family is unique in that the immediate grief is not the hardest; it’s weeks later, when the numbness of the pain has worn off and the reality of loss has begun to settle in, that support is needed the most. Not only were my professors incredibly understanding of my situation, but the amount of support I received from my hallmates, friends, and even my faculty head of house was nothing short of incredible. Although I still miss my grandmother every day, experiencing the loss showed me that our community creed is not just a piece of paper that we sign our first day on The Commons. Rather, it is an oath to support, guide, and love your fellow Commodores through all of life’s ups and downs.