Vanderbilt Magazine

Forward Ever: Vanderbilt celebrates its past and present as it creates opportunities for a stellar future

The spring/summer 2023 issue of Vanderbilt Magazine included my article describing how Vanderbilt, in the 150th year since it was established, is poised to take its place among the great universities of this century. I wrote that the Vanderbilt of today—while in many ways different from the Vanderbilt of 1873—still lives by our founding vision to be a university that “unflinchingly engages with the world as it exists in our lives and times.”

In this issue, I am pleased to share some examples of this from the fall semester of 2023.

Chancellor Daniel Diermeier (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)
Chancellor Daniel Diermeier (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

In response to the stark divisions that plague our nation and hinder our society’s moving forward, we founded Dialogue Vanderbilt. Through this robust initiative, we are teaching our students and broader community how to constructively discuss challenging topics—and we are conducting research on polarization and using what we learn to help restore and model the civil discourse and cooperation that our world urgently needs.

We successfully debuted several elements of Dialogue Vanderbilt during our campuswide celebration of Free Speech Week in October. Our keynote event—an open conversation on pressing global issues between well-known journalist Bret Stephens and Vanderbilt political science and law Research Professor Samar Ali—provided a great example of how powerful civil discourse can be. Beyond that, those few days were packed full of vibrant discussions on topics ranging from the shifting role of guns to First Amendment issues in Tennessee to the complex challenges posed by the rapid advancement of AI.

We held a two-day symposium on the intersection of AI, free speech and human rights that featured interdisciplinary expertise from around the nation. As you will learn from this issue’s feature “Harnessing the Machine,” Vanderbilt University is leading the world in understanding and responsibly using this game-changing technology.

While Dialogue Vanderbilt is keeping us busy, we are not slowing down elsewhere. This fall saw the launch of Quantum Potential, our new marquee video series on research and innovation hosted by Radiolab founder and Vanderbilt faculty member Jad Abumrad.

Our community gatherings for Family Weekend and Reunion were memorable as always—but they were particularly special this time as part of the celebration of our Sesquicentennial. And Dare to Grow, our most ambitious philanthropic campaign in support of our most ambitious vision—to be the great university of the 21st century—continues to flourish, with donations that made fiscal 2023 our single largest fundraising year to date.

In many ways, our Sesquicentennial is our best year ever thus far. In keeping with the Sesquicentennial spirit, this issue celebrates our past, present and future—from our important and long-standing function in the city of Nashville, to the holistic education and opportunities to innovate that our students receive from Immersion Vanderbilt, to our mastery of the cutting-edge technologies that will define our shared future. May you read these stories with pleasure and with great pride. Vanderbilt is a university of our lives and our times and, in terms of creating the stellar future that I described only a few months ago, we are already well on our way.