We say congratulations to graduates; however, I believe that we should congratulate the universities as well. Here is my tribute to my now alma mater.
Congratulations, Vanderbilt University. You managed to unleash 1600 more Commodores into the world to execute the motto "conquer and prevail." But Vanderbilt, you also conquered and prevailed as an institution. You somehow took 1600 talented high school seniors and transformed them into thinkers. You intimately bonded a diverse, opinionated group of students and created lifelong friendships. You ingrained the value of hard work and struggle, but not without the strong emphasis on people and relationships as the highest priority.
Many of the lessons Vanderbilt taught us took place outside of the classroom. With the Nashville Flood of 2010, student groups supported affected faculty along with organizing and volunteering in the greater Nashville community in efforts to rebuild. In addition to the value of community, we were trained to actively challenge rather than to passively accept, to spot needs, to rectify mistakes and to patiently work through painstakingly difficult problems until we reached an accurate solution.
Vanderbilt's Class of 2012, the first to graduate from the Ingram Commons, care about and respect each other unlike any other group of students I've seen. We understand the meaning of community and most importantly the characteristics that create great leaders. A leader may not necessarily be the one who has the best ideas, but is the one who understands and accepts others, is the one who unites and is the one who ensures that the talents around them are celebrated, utilized and heard. A great leader is the one who selflessly serves.
The value of community on campus is inescapable. Vanderbilt's friendly atmosphere made meeting and building relationships a daily occurrence. I became close with many of the employees and continued forging friendships with other students up until the very last moment. If I were to regret anything, it would be that I did not meet some people sooner. Continuing these new friendships may not be effortless; however, I trust that because Vanderbilt brought us together, they will be rewarding.
Not only did the emphasis on community resound within the campus but also within the very structure of Vanderbilt's orientation and graduation weeks, making the entire college experience come full circle. Orientation four years ago consisted of endless social events and activities, along with inspirational lectures to explain what it meant to become a Commodore: honor, service, community and scholarship. Being from a large family, the graduations of my older siblings focused primarily on receiving their diplomas. Not Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt's graduation revolved around receptions, parties and more wisdom-filled lectures, turning the usual half-day graduation ceremony into a three-day celebration of community and commissioning us to live lives of significance.
Tom Brokaw, our senior day speaker, recounted the work ethic and character that the greatest generation, our grandparents, embodied. Though we have neither been through World War II nor had to suffer through the Great Depression, many of the values Mr. Brokaw emphasized are true of Vanderbilt's culture. I echo his challenge for this generation to become the next greatest generation. And with Vanderbilt's influence, I believe that this is realistic and possible.
In placing some of this nation's brightest in the presence of brilliant professors and in an environment where service and relationships are valued, humility and cooperation replaces the arrogance and cutting competition that characterize many other top universities. Because of this, I consider my classmates to be exceptions to the stereotype of lazy, instant-gratification chasers that my generation has unfortunately been identified as.
Students who walk through West End's gates will be met with talent and honor.
For those joining Vanderbilt's Class of 2016, congratulations! You have placed yourselves into one of the finest environments to not only learn among the brightest, but also gain the tools with which to become valuable citizens. Recognizing that the former is worthless without the latter will be your very first lesson.
Just as the love of God, family and country has shaped my life, so too, have you, Vanderbilt. Because of the way you have influenced me, I add you to the list. Thus, my loyalties lie with God, family, country and Vanderbilt. Go 'Dores!