It's been fifteen years since I stood where you were, out on Alumni Lawn in those preternaturally straight ranks of chairs. I was just back for the ceremony, because technically I graduated in August 1997 with an MA; I was just there to walk. Turns out it's the last time my dad would see me alive, but that's another post.
Vanderbilt means a lot of things to a lot of people. More to the point, what everyone takes away from this place is different. I came here for all the wrong reasons. I was trying to launder a BA from a nothing college somewhere else. I was trying to have a "real" college experience to make up for the failed undergrad years. I was trying to get some sort of paper vindication that I could hold up as proof that I was, in fact, just as smart as my mama insisted on telling everyone. And...come on, I grew up in the South. My relatives in east Tennessee were more ecstatic that I was coming to Vanderbilt than they would have been for any Ivy League school.
Honest confession time: I didn't exactly get out right. I was in a PhD program. It didn't work out. The MA was as much a lovely parting gift as anything else. My plans for my career and my life changed abruptly, and fifteen years on, instead of being a colorfully sardonic political scientist pulling the strings in DC while drinking my way through every green room on the Sabbath Gasbag shows, I'm...a colorfully sardonic technology professional drinking my way through every speakeasy in Silicon Valley.
What I was taught at Vanderbilt was excellent and insightful, but it was pearls before swine. On the other hand, what I learned at Vanderbilt - the problem-solving, the self-reliance, the importance of not telling your friends you have $68 on you when somebody wants to make a beer run to Mapco, the fact that your cocktail should carry the message that you don't have to prove anything, the power and importance of esprit de corps - what I learned at Vanderbilt has carried me ever since.
When I first set foot on campus, Nashville felt like home to me from day one. No place I've ever lived, before or since, immediately felt like I belonged there from the instant I arrived. It was a wrench to leave, and for a long time, the circumstances of my leaving (and the rest of a crappy 1998) made it feel like I couldn't really call it home anymore. Then, a few years later, I decided to suck it up and make the effort, and it was rewarded. The alumni club in San Francisco, the management and population of this blog, the people foolish enough to follow the Twitter, and then I showed up last September for a game - and for the second time, Vanderbilt felt like home from the minute I arrived.
I hope you had a great time here. If you did or if you didn't, I hope that what you learned here is something that stays with you, something that helps you through the rest of your life - even if what you were taught disappears in the mists of time and early-onset senility. And I hope that if it comes down to it a decade later, when you're at loose ends and wondering, that Vanderbilt will be there to take you in again for the second time.
Also, good luck parking for Graduation. That will never, ever be fixed. =)