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Founder’s Medalists to be recognized at Class of 2020 Commencement

Apr. 30, 2021, 8:00 AM

The 10 students who graduated with first honors from each of Vanderbilt’s schools and colleges will be recognized during the Class of 2020’s Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 1, and Sunday, May 2.

The 2020 Founder’s Medal recipients were announced last May in a video message to the university community by Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Susan R. Wente, who was serving as interim chancellor when the Class of 2020 had their degrees conferred virtually.

Since 1877, the university has awarded a gold medal to the student graduating with first honors from each of the university’s 10 colleges and schools. The medals are named after the university’s founder, Cornelius Vanderbilt, who made a contribution to endow the awards in their first year.

Arts and Science

Sumanth Chennareddy from Cumming, Georgia, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the College of Arts and Science. He earned a bachelor of arts, with a major in neuroscience and a minor in Spanish. On campus, he served as a VUceptor, vice president of Vanderbilt’s South Asian Cultural Exchange and a volunteer Spanish language interpreter at VUMC’s student-run Shade Tree Clinic. He received several external awards, including a spot in the Undergraduate Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine and the NYU School of Medicine’s prestigious Summer Undergraduate Research Program.

Blair School of Music

Matthew James Shorten from Vestavia Hills, Alabama, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Blair School of Music. He majored in musical composition, with minors in voice and violin, earning a bachelor of music. His many awards at Vanderbilt include the prestigious Margaret Branscomb Prize, which is awarded to the first-year student who exemplifies the spirit and standards of the Blair School. He also led the campus-wide Blair Salon concert series, Blair Composers Forum and the Vanderbilt chapters of the American Choral Directors Association and the Music Teachers National Association. He has been featured internationally as a soloist, and his compositions have been commissioned by musicians around the world.

Divinity School

Michael Fears Johnston from McDonough, Georgia, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Divinity School. He earned a master of divinity and a certificate in Latin American studies. He received special honors for his divinity degree project and was awarded an Imagination Grant to travel to Ecuador, where he conducted research on the religious practices of the indigenous Andean Quechua. He also participated in programs sponsored by Saint Augustine’s Episcopal Chapel and Center for Contemplative Justice.

School of Engineering

Luke D. Neise from Wildwood, Missouri, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the School of Engineering. He earned a bachelor of engineering with a double major in mechanical engineering and classical civilizations. Having served as payload lead for the Vanderbilt Aerospace Design Laboratory, his experiences with space engineering have inspired his future goals. With his fellow lab members, he implemented a drone design for NASA to demonstrate improved planetary sample collection missions. On campus, he was president of the Tau Beta Pi engineering honor society. He also was awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Graduate School

Thea J. Autry from Katy, Texas, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Graduate School. She earned a doctor of philosophy in English. Her research and teaching interests have included U.S. literature and visual arts with a focus on theories of visuality, race, gender, sexuality and cultural geography. As an officer in the English Graduate Student Association, she was involved in the Tennessee Prison Books Project among other community programs. She has been awarded numerous grants and scholarships and is finishing a year in residence at Kenyon College as part of the prestigious Yarbrough Dissertation Fellowship.

Law School

Micah N. Bradley from Brentwood, Tennessee, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Law School. She earned a doctor of jurisprudence. During her time at Vanderbilt, she received the Archie B. Martin Memorial Prize for Scholarship and the Robert F. Jackson Memorial Prize. She also served as the senior en banc editor of the Vanderbilt Law Review and was on the board of editors of The Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review, a joint publication with the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. While at Vanderbilt Law School, she spent summers working at Sherrard Row Voigt & Harbison and Bass Berry & Sims in Nashville. She has spent the past year as a law clerk for Judge Eli Richardson, JD’92, of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee.

School of Medicine

Kianna Roze Jackson from Evansville, Indiana, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the School of Medicine. She earned a doctor of medicine and was a leader and a mentor at Vanderbilt, serving as president of the Student National Medical Association and committee chair for the Student Wellness Program. She also spearheaded the creation of a new elective course in plastic surgery. Her many accolades include the Levi Watkins, Jr. M.D. Student Award, and she was involved in Vanderbilt’s Shade Tree Clinic. She is completing her residency at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

School of Nursing

Jane M. Mericle from Avondale, Pennsylvania, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the School of Nursing, where she earned a doctor of nursing practice. Prior to joining Vanderbilt’s program, she was already a chief nursing officer with decades of experience. Her participation in the program showed her eagerness to continue learning and to inspire other nurses to reach their full potential. Since completing her degree at Vanderbilt, she has been promoted to an expanded role at Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children and various clinical sites, where she leads strategic operational initiatives and serves as the senior nurse executive.

Owen Graduate School of Management

Joshua Andrew Bruner from Kansas City, Missouri, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for the Owen Graduate School of Management. He earned a master of business administration. He also earned his undergraduate degree in medicinal chemistry at Vanderbilt and is interested in the intersection of science and finance. He served as president of the Owen Finance Club and actively mentored Vanderbilt students throughout their career searches.

Peabody College

Constance Iris Du from Vernon Hills, Illinois, is the 2020 Founder’s Medalist for Peabody College. She studied human and organizational development and public policy and earned a bachelor of science. During her time at Vanderbilt, she demonstrated her dedication to helping vulnerable populations. She interned with the Nashville District Attorney’s Office, where she provided emergency resources for high-risk victims. In addition, she served as a mentor to the Nashville Mayor’s Youth Council and conducted pro bono research and other acts of service to the larger community. On campus, she was a student VUceptor and an officer of the Peabody Council.

The undergraduate Class of 2020 will be honored with an in-person and virtual Commencement ceremony on May 1 at Vanderbilt Stadium. Wente will lead the event and address graduates.

Graduate and professional students in the Class of 2020 will be honored with separate ceremonies held by their respective schools across campus on May 2. Those ceremonies also will be available virtually for those unable to attend.

Learn more about Class of 2020 Commencement celebrations.

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