Vanderbilt Magazine

Making History Together: Upcoming Sesquicentennial offers opportunity to consider our past, envision our future

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Autumn on campus is unfailingly charming: crisp weather, changing leaves, bustling classrooms and labs and football on golden Saturdays. This year I’ve especially enjoyed welcoming first-year students at our annual Founders Walk, meeting students’ loved ones during Family Weekend and honoring exemplary faculty and staff during our semi-annual awards ceremonies. With so much happening and so much promise in the air, it’s no wonder autumn is often the first thing that comes to mind when we remember college.

Amid the rush of the new academic year, we’re also preparing for a rare opportunity to pause and reflect. In 2023, Vanderbilt will mark the 150th anniversary of our founding—our Sesquicentennial. We’re planning a yearlong commemoration in which our entire Vanderbilt community will be invited to consider our past and, especially, to envision our future.

One important area of focus for the future will be looking at how we can increase Vanderbilt’s global presence. Raising our profile and disseminating more of our work internationally is a necessity if we are to continue attracting the best students and faculty from around the world. It is also a natural evolution for any university that seeks to have a wide and meaningful impact.

Our Sesquicentennial will also provide an opportunity to delve more deeply into our long-standing commitment to free expression and open inquiry and our culture of wide-ranging, respectful discourse. All of these are essential to transformative education and pathbreaking research, and we are fiercely protective of them at Vanderbilt. In the coming months, we will look closely at what they mean and how we practice them.

The stories in this issue provide a vivid snapshot of Vanderbilt at almost 150. They include a sobering assessment by Vanderbilt mental health experts of how the pandemic and other recent traumas have driven unprecedented rates of anxiety and depression in the U.S.—and, crucially, what can be done about it. We also meet alumna and ventriloquist Megan Piphus Peace and learn about her dazzling journey to becoming the first Black female puppeteer on Sesame Street. And we learn how alumnus, Board of Trust member and Nashville SC principal owner John Ingram is, through unwavering commitment, turning Music City into a soccer town.

These stories and others reflect a university whose commitment to collaboration, innovation and the public good is fundamentally the same as when Cornelius Vanderbilt made his legendary gift—even if that commitment is being realized in a very different world.

As a member of our university community, you’re part of Vanderbilt’s past and an architect of its future. I invite you to take part in the events we’re planning for next year—to share your memories as well as your ideas for where Vanderbilt can go next. Please consider submitting your thoughts and recollections to the “Why I Give” page on our university website to inspire other members of our community.

As we lay groundwork for the Sesquicentennial year, I look forward to our Vanderbilt community daring to grow and continuing to make history—together.