WATCH: Meet student-athletes in the Class of 2024—inspiring on and off the field



Accountability, drive, mental and physical excellence, and profound collaboration are hallmarks of Vanderbilt student-athletes.

Meet three scholar-athletes in the Class of 2024 who have embodied these characteristics to do inspiring things on and off the field.

Jack Bulger is almost certainly one of the only players in NCAA history who struck out on the very first pitch he saw as a collegiate student-athlete. The first-year catcher wasn’t in the starting lineup on Opening Day in 2021. But when a teammate suffered an injury during an at-bat, coaches told Bulger to grab his batting helmet and get in there. Inheriting an 0-2 count, he dug in, watched a curveball break across the plate for strike three and trudged back to the dugout.

Jack Bulger during the 2023 SEC Tournament (Submitted photo)

Ted Williams famously said baseball is the only endeavor in which a person can fail seven out of 10 times and still be a success. But strike three on your first pitch? That was a little ridiculous.

Fast forward to Vanderbilt’s most recent Opening Day, and Bulger found himself part of a different—and better—small club. There aren’t many seniors who hit the first pitch of their lineup’s season out of the ballpark—Vanderbilt’s first season-opening leadoff home run in at least 21 years.

Whether it’s starting more than 150 games for one of the nation’s best teams or balancing an economics major and minor in business in the College of Arts and Science and a digital fabrication minor through the School of Engineering, Bulger embodies what it means to never take an opportunity for granted.

“You can’t control the outcomes, but if you stay consistent in your routines and stay disciplined in what you do on a daily basis, then you’re going to be successful,” Bulger said. “Maybe not in the short run, but it’s going to play out over time. That applies to life. Whatever you do, if you’re consistent in how you operate on a daily basis, you’re going to be pretty good at what you do.”

Read more of Jack’s story.>>

When she was in eighth grade, Haley Bishop noticed a teammate on her track team running in regular sneakers instead of the track-specific spikes that give competitive runners the grip necessary for maximum speed. Rather than thinking it a source of amusement, something to tease them about, she thought about the spikes on her feet—the spikes she was fortunate to take for granted. She told her parents it didn’t seem right, that someone needed to do something. All right, they challenged her. What was her plan?

Haley Bishop, Class of 2024 (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

From those humble origins was born We Set the Pace, a nonprofit organization that Bishop founded in middle school to encourage young people to “use their passion, discover their purpose, and use that knowledge to prepare for the future.” Spikes for the Soul, one of the organization’s earliest and ongoing initiatives, provides new and gently used track spikes to young runners in and around her native Fort Mill and Rock Hill, South Carolina, who are otherwise unable to afford them.

The first year, her organization raised enough in donations to buy seven pairs of spikes. Not long after distributing them, a coach told Bishop that one of the recipients had just won the county title. Who says track and field is an individual sport?

Connectivity has always fascinated Bishop—the way people influence, inspire and interact with one another. At Vanderbilt, the communications major learned to find her own voice in life’s conversations.

She also found a community that supported her when the student-athlete qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships, then endured the frustrations and uncertainty of a lengthy recovery from injury. Because like that county champion she helped to reach new heights, few who stand atop the podium get there without the support of people who cared enough to help them realize the dream.

From her family, with parents Heather and Quinset Bishop Sr. still her North Star, to Vanderbilt director of track and field Althea Thomas and assistant coach for sprints and hurdles Cameia Alexander, among a bevy of mentors, Bishop has her team.

“When you have other people who believe in you, it helps you start believing in yourself,” Bishop said. “I think all these years, with the village that I have around me, they have really helped me grow into who I’m supposed to become.”

Read more of Haley’s story.>>

For the better part of the past two decades, Emily Gaven has loved few things more than getting in the way of five ounces of vulcanized rubber whipped her way at speeds that would trigger a ticket on most highways. Such is the perilous life of a lacrosse goalie.

Emily Gaven, Vanderbilt lacrosse goalie 2023-24 (Vanderbilt University)

So, perhaps it isn’t surprising that she found fun in a class on corporate valuation, a subject that might sound daunting to some. She enjoyed the intense collaboration and weekend hours working with a team from the Owen Graduate School of Management Master’s in Finance program. The work expanded her boundaries. In the numbers and details, she saw her future coming into focus.

“I feel like I became fast friends with the people in my program because we spent so much time together from the get-go. Owen is a very collaborative environment,” Gaven said. “And I learned a lot about the skills involved in valuing a company, which you’re likely going to do in your job post-graduation, if you’re working in finance.”

That’s another thing goalies know better than most. The best way to keep the other team from getting the best of you—and avoid the ball leaving you black and blue? Have a good team around you.

Read more of Emily’s story.>>