Meet the Class of 2018 Top 10 Outstanding Seniors

On Saturday, Vanderbilt will name its Class of 2018 Outstanding Senior. The tradition goes back to 2005 and honors the accomplishments of a group of seniors nominated and voted on by their classmates. The Hustler sat down with this year’s nominees to learn about their time at Vanderbilt and how they feel about their top 10 titles. 

Andrew Brodsky

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

So I think I’m one of the top 10 outstanding seniors because I’m sort of a model for the ability to fail or not succeed at Vanderbilt and still pick yourself up and move on and not be completely terrible. So my freshman year I was sort of rejected or failed at basically everything that I applied for, tried to do. Whether it was an acapella group that I auditioned for, a leadership opportunity, anything like that, I was really good at getting rejection letters. But then throughout my time–like at the end of my freshman year, sophomore year, things like that, I really just stuck with it and sort of spent that time trying to figure out who I am and what I’m passionate about and what I care about. And once I figured that out, I was able to pick myself up and go on and move on and really continue to pursue things that I’m passionate about. And I think that’s really infused what I do on campus. So it’s not what I’m involved with that makes me outstanding or whatever. It’s my ability to keep trying, keep moving on and finding what I care about that I think makes me outstanding.

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

So I think my most meaningful experience is really just the entire two years that I’ve been able to live on the Commons not as a first year. I think it’s really hard to distill it down into any one specific section of that time, but just the time that I’ve been able to surround myself with first year students and really get to know as many of them as I can–from all of their different backgrounds and experiences–and really help them find what they’re passionate about has really been what’s been the most meaningful to me when I’ve been on this campus.

Kayla Cooper

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

I guess I would say that I am one of the top ten outstanding seniors because I feel that I have had a hand in a lot of parts of campus.  I’m an RA on Commons, I’ve been there for all four years.  I’m on Honor Council and done it for all four years.  And, I’ve been with a couple other areas on campus but they have had longevity.  I feel like it’s not something I just want to do as a resume builder or something that was just a checklist.  I feel as though I’ve done something that I’m really passionate about, which has manifested into what I want to do in my career, which is to be a doctor and physician for underrepresented populations.  So, that’s why I’m a Spanish major.  I feel like everything I’ve done on campus has been very fruitful but also something that I’m actually passionate about, something that I’m actually wanting to make a change.  It’s not something where I’ve been doing these extraordinary things.  It’s something that has made very small impacts but in a lot of places on campus.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

I wish I could have explored Nashville a lot more.  I feel like my first two years I was very like, “I have to study all the time.”  But that’s not really what it’s about.  It’s about getting the holistic experience of college. I feel like I wish I would have gone to more events on campus, see more performances with my friends, gone to more football games.  This is really the first year I’ve gone to a football game and really stayed the whole time because I was always pressured about work.  It’s been nice doing that as a senior, but I wish I would have started doing it sooner.

Sam Edwards

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

Oh my gosh. Frankly, I don’t really know. The cosmos that is outstanding seniors is an interesting concept in my eyes. The beginning process and the ending process make a lot of sense. You get nominated by an org, then you apply, and then students vote from twenty to ten. That makes a lot of sense. The in between is such a question mark. They read applications and, somehow, it’s decided that you have an interview. Then, there’s a ten-minute interview and somehow, from that, they decide who the top twenty is. That middle ground, in my opinion, is… and nobody really knows how they decide all that. So, that’s why in my opinion, this is kind of an interesting idea. But also, it’s pretty cool that people get recognition. I wish there were more avenues for that. Generally, from year to year on campus, people begin to understand that everybody here is outstanding. But, I guess, in my terms, I would say… I don’t think I’ve necessarily done one big, grand thing that’s been like, “Oh my gosh. He invented something.” That’s not exactly what I’ve done.  I like to say that I try to carry myself in a positive way with everything that I do. Just trying to do all the little things very extraordinarily.

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

I helped mold someone’s collegiate experience. Bonding with the RA staff… When you’re a Commons RA, you’re geographically taken away from probably the majority of your friends. You’re going through a lot that these people don’t understand. As much as the Commons staff grows together is really amazing. The amount I learned about different types of people and how to handle different types of situations… The fact that I was a lot stronger than I thought I was. I was able to do all these things. My change from the second semester sophomore year to first semester sophomore year in itself was almost like a whole year of Vanderbilt experiences in a semester. I would say who I was from the start of that to the end of that was nuts. That level of growth meant a lot. I don’t know who I would be if I didn’t have that experience at the time that I had it. It’s been tough but it was great. It was great.

Shelly Feldman

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

I think even just from my involvement in various organizations I’ve had lots of meaningful experiences. I was a trip participant in Manna sophomore year, I went to Guatemala and that was super meaningful, my involvement with Dance Marathon sophomore year–that was meaningful, joining my sorority freshman year–super meaningful, it’s all, as you can see, it’s all been meaningful to me. But I think overall..and especially my involvement with TAP and VSVS–working with kids in the Nashville community is so meaningful and I just have so many positive memories from all of the different aspects of the college experience just specifically at Vanderbilt even just being in my classes, certain days stand out to me. So I feel like this is a hard question just because overall my time at Vanderbilt has been so so meaningful and the people that I’ve met here who have made my experience what it’s been I am forever grateful for. And just all of the opportunities that Vanderbilt gives us are really incredible, even just from talking with my friends from other universities–we are so lucky that we go to such an amazing school that gives us the resources and the opportunities that we do. And I know that this isn’t the explicit answer–the one meaningful experience–but I think just in general, this has been–being a student at Vanderbilt for the past 4 years has been one of the most meaningful experiences that I think I’ll ever have in my life.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

So I think probably if I were to change anything, I kind of wish I came in knowing more specifically what I wanted to do so then it would have just been easier for me in general to be majoring in something that I know I’m interested in, something that I know will help me in a professional setting. It would be ideal if I came in here with a specific path that I could now just continue to follow especially as I think about graduating just because that would’ve made my life easier. So I think even though that is something I would potentially change, I don’t necessarily wish that it happened, if that makes any sense at all. I’ve just really enjoyed my time here exploring different subjects, meeting people from all over–like on campus from all different areas of campus, from all over the country, from all over the world. It’s been such an extraordinary experience to be able to leverage my strengths and weaknesses in different ways, in different areas of campus. So I think that has really helped shape my experience–the fact that I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to do and that I’ve had the opportunity to explore different subjects, different clubs, different areas of campus, if you will.

Sparsh Gupta

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

So I’ve been asking myself this question quite a bit over the last couple of weeks, [because a lot of my friends and acquaintances that I know who I thought would be outstanding seniors or in the top twenty or top ten didn’t even get to the interview stage or in the top forty stage. I am not entirely sure how criteria or reflections were done to reach this top ten. That’s not to say that the top ten aren’t highly accomplished at Vanderbilt, I just think that there were some who were left out of the process. But as for me, I think it was because I am involved in a bunch of different things, and in those organizations I am incredibly passionate about the work that I’m doing. I hope that came through in my application. And what I want to convey, being a representative of students who also do the same thing at Vanderbilt, is following your passions and doing what you’re interested in. Not just high profile organizations are the path to making an impact at Vanderbilt and having success at Vanderbilt. My top three commitments are the Bhangra team, the Bhangradores, Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science, a science outreach program, and VUcept, the peer mentorship program.

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

It was my first year as a VUceptor, and I thought that I was doing really poorly as a mentor, especially to this one international student. We met one day towards lunch at the end of the year. I had been giving him a lot of advice on how to navigate premed at Vanderbilt, and at this lunch, he suddenly said, “Sparsh, I don’t know what I would have done without you, and I don’t know if I would have stayed at Vanderbilt.” It just struck me because I didn’t think I was doing anything productive, but just listening to him and being there for him was what helped him. That actually has shaped a lot of what I want to do with my career, and the way I approach mentorship and leadership in organizations.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

I wish I had more time! There’s not a lot that I would change. I like the things that I’ve been involved in. I wish that I hadn’t been so stressed out about the small things, because when I look back now, they don’t seem to matter. Things like getting rejected from small research programs that I wanted to be a part of, or not participating in the right things or having a lot of FOMO. It all works out in the end, and if you’re doing things that you like, then there’s no reason to fret about what others are doing or what events that you could be a part of. I wish that I had stressed a lot less about that stuff.

Katie Harris

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

That’s a really tough question to answer. Vanderbilt students are so impressive, so to be in the top 10 is really an honor. I can only hope that I’m in the top ten because I’ve made a difference on Vanderbilt’s campus and in the lives of Vanderbilt students in a way that is truly unique. Anyone who knows me well understands that I have a passion for meeting new people, being a good mentor and friend, and creating change wherever I see necessary, and I think my Vanderbilt experience has been no different. Over the course of my four years, I feel like I’ve worked to create cross-collaboration among various student groups on campus in order to make Vanderbilt a more accessible, diverse, and equitable place for all students. That said, I don’t feel like my experiences make me any more “outstanding” than the rest of Vanderbilt’s senior class. I’m so incredibly honored to receive this recognition, but I also know that there are so many students doing very unique, incredible things on our campus every day and it doesn’t always get recognized!

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

While I don’t necessarily think there’s anything I’d change about my time at Vanderbilt, because I feel like even the mistakes I’ve made along the journey were purposeful and have taught me very important lessons, I do occasionally wonder what my experience would’ve been like had I tried to diversify my experiences—friend groups, student organizations, etc.—when I first arrived on campus, rather than two years later. I often feel like students from underrepresented minority backgrounds often feel pressured to “choose” which side of campus we’ll be in: whether we’re going to “fit in” with students who look like us, or whether we’re not. But what I’ve learned over the course of my time here is that it doesn’t matter! There’s so much to learn from every single person on this campus, and I learned later on in my four years how important it is to challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone because of it.

Shawn Kerry

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

I think it’s weird because, for the nature of what I do and what I try to do on campus, I think it’s best for me not to be out in front, pushing things, standing out from the crowd. To clarify, I work with the Interfaith Council. So, I’m personally nonreligious and I’m a part of it because I think that’s a very, very important piece, not just of campus life but of social life as a whole. Our boundaries with what we’re willing to talk about, what we’re willing to engage with, and leaving our hesitations at the door. So, I see my role in all of that and I think this is my biggest role on campus: trying to push new opportunities, to have those conversations, to make people more comfortable sharing what they might not normally share in different circumstances. But my role in that is not to be the one guiding things. My role is to open up the opportunities, to bring people in, to attract different people from different backgrounds, but then, more or less, merge into the background. I’m not standing out. So, why I think I’m an outstanding senior, I think it’s a little odd because I don’t think I should be if we’re talking about what outstanding actually means.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

Wow. Maybe, what I’ve appreciated most about my time here is that I can say I wouldn’t change all that much because I think what I’ve managed to do, and what I think I’m most grateful I’ve decided to do, was to make the most important piece of being here the relationships I build. So, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to meet a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. I’m involved, in one hand, with people who are very involved in religious life and, on the other hand, I’m in a fraternity on campus. Those two bodies of the campus population are very different from one another, as I’m sure you can presume. If I were to change anything, it wouldn’t be so much to do something differently.  Just to do it even more. I think it’s very easy for us to get lost in feeling like all the credentials we’re building up are why we’re here at school. I’m not going to belittle that; I think it’s very important, especially if people want to be doctors and they want to be engineers and they want to be lawyers. That’s important. But, I think if we make that the focus of why we’re here, we’re missing out on the whole benefit of being on a campus instead of just taking classes online. We’re surrounded by so many people doing so many different things. So, yes if I were to change anything, it wouldn’t be changing the things I’ve done but just making sure I do them even more than I’ve done over the past three years.

Madison Maderious

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

In my past three years at Vanderbilt, I’ve been very involved with the first year experience. That’s probably the biggest involvement that I’ve had. I’ve been a RA on Commons. I’ve been on Commons all four years, I’ve been a RA for three years now, and I’m the Head Resident of Memorial House. That’s something that I’ve really really enjoyed. Working with faculty members, working with first year students as they adjust to their time at Vanderbilt and at college and their first time away from home has been extremely rewarding. It’s been very challenging at times, but I’ve really enjoyed doing that, and through that experience, I’ve gotten more involved on campus.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

I don’t know, maybe getting involved in something a little different. I’ve absolutely loved being all in with the first year experience, and just getting more and more involved in that throughout my time and getting involved in more ResEd initiatives as well, and looking at that as an organization in and of itself. Maybe diversifying my experience, I never really spent any time on main campus, that’s really different. I wouldn’t trade my time on Commons for the world, but sometimes I wonder what it would been like to live on main campus and getting involved in some of the things happening over there. But really, I wouldn’t change anything. My time at Vanderbilt has been absolutely incredible. I feel like I’ve grown so much and learned so much from the people that I’ve had the opportunity to work with and take classes with. Vanderbilt has given me so many opportunities, so I really wouldn’t change a whole lot.

Mac Ploetz

Why do you think you’re one of the top 10 outstanding seniors?

Well, I can tell you why I don’t think I would have ever been one of the top 10. What’s really cool is that in the time that I’ve been here, a lot of the folks that are in the top 10 occupy a lot of similar roles. Greek Life, VUcept, RA, tour guide. I’m not saying those aren’t wonderful things to do, but we know that there is so much more to do on campus. It’s really surprising that I do so many niche things. The things that I’m involved in are Lambda and Vandy Sex Ed and all that fun stuff. It’s honestly somewhat surprising that i’m not in greek life, I’m not an RA, I’m not in VUcept, my GPA is kind of terrible. I never even thought about the honor council. I think that really speaks to how much the change that we can make on this campus can be so big and so impactful that you don’t have to be in Greek life or VUcept or an RA or all those things. When I started getting kind of far, especially after the interview process, I was somewhat surprised. But I also know that a lot of things have changed because of how out there we’ve been, and how out there i’ve been.

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

Last year the Westboro Baptist Church counter demonstration was really cool. And I think the reason that it was is because we all knew that we were uniting for LGBT folks, specifically for trans folks because that was the pretense that WBC was operating under for that specific tour of the U.S. But I met so many people that I’ve never met before, I saw so many people who I never thought would come to support LGBT folks. I don’t often get to see a united Vanderbilt, and I don’t think it was a 100% united Vanderbilt. But it’s the closest that I’ve seen thus far, because we all knew the message we were centering around. It was clear that it was supposed to be love. I can be drowning in midterms and stuff like that, and I can still look to a community and find love, affirmation, validation and even in the midst of all of that chaos I can sit down and know that I’m still part of a family, a community that cares about me and my wellbeing independent of my academic achievements. It’s a good reminder that we do care about each other.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

I wish that I would have utilized more resources here. My freshman and sophomore year were horrible. I almost failed out a couple of times. Had major stints in mental health stuff, and I was always in this mindset that if I just knuckled down hard enough then I could fix it and be a really great student and have a lot of friends and be a leader. At the end of my sophomore year when I had no knuckles left, I had to take an honest look at myself. I was like shoot I should probably be looking at the resources around me. I wish I would have talked to more people about mental health resources, I wish I would have used the career center more than I did, maybe fix my resume a little bit between then and now. I wish I would have known that community existed, during my first year especially. Because I didn’t and I refused to go there. I think that’s something a lot of folks at Vanderbilt don’t do. We want to be 100% ourselves, we want our success to be dependent on what we do and nothing else. But the natures of success is that it’s collaborative, and I wish I would have realized that sooner.

Olivia Solow-Niederman

What has been your most meaningful experience at Vanderbilt?

That’s a really tough question. Vanderbilt has created a lot of meaningful experiences to me. I think a lot of mine have to do with mentorship, both being a mentor and getting mentored by other people. My mentors really shaped my experience here, believed in me when I didn’t, opened a lot of doors for me, supported me, answered my panicked phone calls and texts and just like showed up with ice cream when I needed it. So I really tried to pay it forward with mentorship as well.

Another really meaningful experience for me has been my experiences in cultural showcases like the Diwali showcase and Asian New Year festival. I think it’s really important on this campus to sometimes do things just for fun, and to not do it tied to a leadership position or studying or something related to your major or something related to a field you want to go into or a career focus and just really get outside your comfort zone and do something you would never do otherwise in your life. So I love getting up on stage in front of 1200 people and kind of making a fool of myself because I don’t naturally dance that way, but it’s really pushed me outside of my comfort zone and has opened my eyes to a lot of different perspectives and brought really cool people into my life and I wouldn’t have the chance to do that on any other campus I think or in any other situation.

What would you change about your time at Vanderbilt?

That’s a really tough question. I think if I had to change something I would have gotten involved in the cultural showcases sooner in my time at Vanderbilt. I wish that I would have kind of had the confidence and believed in myself and let go enough to get outside my comfort zone and just have fun like that my first year and my sophomore year as well.

Anna Buettell, Caitlin David, Sarah Friedman, Kelly McHale, Gracie Pitman and Sam Zern contributed to this article.

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