That Vanderbilt Connection



About a week after my first issue as editor of Vanderbilt Magazine came off the press, a wondrous, forgotten little device on my desk started to ring … and ring … and ring some more. In a world brimming with text messages, email and social media posts, I hadn’t fielded so many phone calls in perhaps a decade.

Many callers simply wanted to change an address or give the magazine staff a pat on the back. Some called with complaints. Others called because an article or class note they read sparked some personal story they wanted to mention. One person (happily) reminded me about a story we ran in the Summer 2014 issue about Kimberly Bryant, BE’89, an inspiring leader who founded the organization Black Girls Code. Another person suggested developing community partnerships with the first-generation college students featured in the last issue’s photo essay. Some callers were simply old friends who wanted to say hello.

In every case, even with the complaints and address changes, I ended up having great conversations. Beyond my natural inclination to be interested in hearing other people’s stories, there’s also something about “that Vanderbilt connection” when talking to fellow alumni, as Max Rohn, BE’98, mentions, recalling the first time he met his wife, Joey Wölffer, BS’04.

That Vanderbilt connection, an enigmatically strong bond among those associated with the university, is also what prompted Brock Smethills, BE’13, to pick up the phone (such a marvel!) and call School of Engineering Dean Philippe Fauchet to inquire about Vanderbilt’s interest in helping design and build a sustainable city in Sterling Ranch, Colorado. As envisioned, Sterling Ranch will become a test environment like no other, allowing students and researchers to forge important new paths in critical areas such as water and energy management as well as education.

That Vanderbilt connection is also the reason why the hilarious, touching letter Mallory McDuff, BS’88, wrote to her former English professor, Vereen Bell resonated a little too deeply for me—and will for the scores of others who endured the shock of getting back their first graded papers in those required “W” courses.

This issue’s photo essay offers a striking visual reminder of the connections made at the many events hosted throughout the year by Vanderbilt Alumni Association chapters around the world, from first-year send-off parties to group outings to community service projects. And then there are those exotic alumni trips that I’m sure I’ll take—someday.

One person I talked to in recent weeks mentioned how different his experience with Vanderbilt has been as an alumnus compared to his time as a student. It’s true: There’s a whole new world of smart, diverse, wildly interesting people who share your Vanderbilt connection and are waiting to meet you. Yet it’s impossible to know how meaningful those interactions can be until you actually experience them yourself. Speaking of which, please call me any time: (615) 322-1003.


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