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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

NZEGWU: Misinterpreting the Outstanding Senior award

Chukwukpee Nzegwu, Vanderbilt Programming Board Homecoming Co-Chair

From serving as an Outstanding Senior chair to now a VPB Homecoming Chair, I find myself at odds with the ramifications of running the “Outstanding Senior” process. The process isn’t clean and there are always hurt feelings and misunderstandings. I understand where these feelings are coming from; however, I want to offer another perspective on the process I’ve guided over the past two years.  I have met so many wonderful classmates and learned about the great work they have done on our campus. I regret there can only be 40 students that move on among the initial nominees. The class of 2017 is full of talented and impactful colleagues, many of which I am glad to call my friends. It’s no surprise we had a record-breaking number of applications and nominations, because Vanderbilt students participate in a myriad of activities.

After the first nomination email went out, a friend of mine texted me a cookie-cutter description of what the Outstanding Senior finalists would be, and I was appalled at how gut-wrenchingly right he was. Why do people think the formula is Tour Guide, Resident Advisor, Greek Life, VSG, VUcept, exec on three orgs and a million service hours? Simple. We’ve conditioned ourselves to think because we see these people all over the place and all the time, then they must be important and have significant impact on campus. That the route of visible accomplishment requires being a jack of all trades and master of none. There is no formula to being an outstanding senior! There are some people on this campus who involve themselves passionately in only two organizations, yet nobody else noticed. I’m going to be honest: I deliberately included candidates who didn’t fit the formula my friend described. While I was reading these applications, I felt ashamed and shocked when I came across hidden, yet fiercely passionate, involvements that I never recognized before. I think many of us tend to downplay our contributions to campus, but speaking as someone who has read it all: Do not undervalue your involvement. There is no formula for what “outstanding” means at Vanderbilt.

The release of this year’s top 40 shocked many students, from those who expected to be on the list to those concerned with issues in the selection process. There was more frustration after the top 20 was released and I can imagine more distress now that the voting results are released. I remember last year reading the articles by Aaditi Naik and Shawn Albert as they criticized the process the committee worked so hard to prepare without addressing the actual procedure. An outline of the process: Faculty and student organizations are called to nominate students, and then those students with GPAs 3.0 and above are encouraged to apply. The two Homecoming Chairs and two Outstanding Senior subcommittee chairs get together and create a top 40 list based off of impact and essay quality. Judges, consisting of faculty and staff from across campus, then conduct interviews with each senior in the top 40, and the top 20 highest scorers move on to the popular vote that selects the finalist. Who the student body votes for out of the top 20 is out of the hands of the committee. Our job should be to highlight the variety of involvement on campus out of the applications received.

Although this process has its flaws, I stand by its overall value. The top 40 and top 20 have been highly selective and competitive during my two years of involvement, with no clear winner before voting. While we included Tour Guides and Greek Life members, we also highlighted seniors in LEAPS and the Spirit of Gold. There is just not room in the top 40 to recognize all the seniors in the 400+ organizations on campus. That being said, to those not nominated or cut early in the process, you don’t need this process for validation. I don’t want you to be discouraged. Let’s think about their impact and celebrate how they’ve changed Vanderbilt. You probably don’t even realize your role in their narrative, but as they rise, so do you. I’m talking about those late night conversations, words of encouragement, and uplifting each other.

We didn’t come to Vanderbilt knowing what an Outstanding Senior was. We came for a great education, bountiful opportunities, and lasting friendships.

Chukwukpee Nzegwu is a senior in the College of Arts and Science. He can be reached at [email protected].

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