Chancellor Daniel Diermeier congratulated the Class of 2022 for their “persistence, patience and above all, courage” during the past four years when he delivered his Commencement address at Vanderbilt Stadium on May 13.
An estimated 14,000 guests joined graduates of the university’s 148th class during an in-person main ceremony that was livestreamed on Vanderbilt’s website.
“In many ways, your Vanderbilt experience was marked by a before and an after,” Diermeier said. “The global pandemic forever changed how we work, learn and live. But it also changed us. It made us question our priorities and routines. And we also discovered new strength and our ability to take on and conquer grave challenges.”
Diermeier noted that Vanderbilt was built during another difficult time, the nation’s recovery from the Civil War. Cornelius Vanderbilt, with influence from his Southern wife, Frank Armstrong Vanderbilt, acted boldly by endowing a new university to help heal a fractured region and country.
“Today we are emboldened by a new ambition. Not to simply build a ‘great university of the South’—but to build the great university of the 21st century,” Diermeier said. “This ambition is consistent with our motto—Crescere aude, or ‘dare to grow’—a motto I hope each of you will carry with you as you walk through your lives.”
Diermeier cited the Rev. James Lawson as one of the most inspiring examples of an alumnus who has been a model of courage, daring to grow throughout his life. Lawson challenged segregation head-on during the 1960s by organizing peaceful sit-ins in Nashville and elsewhere, but the university expelled him for his actions. Decades later, Vanderbilt sought to make amends and honor his courage.
“The Rev. Lawson could have been forgiven for ignoring the whole thing to avoid reliving bad memories or engaging in awkward conversations,” Diermeier said. “Instead, following his deep convictions and commitments to forgiveness, he graciously accepted.
“James Lawson’s story doesn’t reflect just his own courage to grow. It reflects Vanderbilt’s as well,” he said. “This university publicly admitted that expelling the Rev. Lawson was wrong. We apologized. More than that, we tried to make amends. And most importantly, we learned from our mistake and applied what we learned in a meaningful way as we moved forward.”
Diermeier said there are so many lessons in courage to remember from Lawson’s story, including the courage to take risks and accept the possibility of failure. He reminded the new graduates that they must continue to engage and wrestle with new ideas and sometimes let the ideas change them.
Having the courage to work together is a signature part of a Vanderbilt education, and the university takes pride in its uniquely collaborative culture, he said. In addition, Vanderbilt provides its students the intellectual tools for lifelong growth and a community that supports them along their journey. In return, graduates should strive to draw on their accomplishments as well as their failures to help other members of the Vanderbilt community develop courage.
In closing, Diermeier said that he wishes joy, satisfaction, success and especially courage for the new graduates because their lives will be richer for it.
Prior to the chancellor’s address, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs C. Cybele Raver presented the Founder’s Medals to the top scholars in each of Vanderbilt’s 10 schools and colleges, a historic tradition that has distinguished the university’s Commencement ceremonies for 144 years.
Raver also recognized 35 faculty members who are retiring in 2022 and have attained emerita or emeritus status.
Approximately 4,200 students graduated from Vanderbilt during the 2021–22 academic year, including approximately 2,500 individuals receiving graduate and professional degrees.
Graduate and professional students in the Class of 2022 were honored with separate ceremonies held by their respective schools across campus on May 13. These ceremonies also were available virtually for those unable to attend.