The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

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.

Meet the Class of 2022 Top 10 Outstanding Seniors and winner

The Hustler sat down with this year’s finalists and winner to reflect on their involvement at Vanderbilt and in greater Nashville.
outstanding seniors
Brina Ratangee
Screenshot of photos of the Class of 2022’s Outstanding Seniors finalists from an Oct. 18 Vanderbilt Programming Board Newsletter (left to right, top to bottom): Melissa Goldin, Emma Rafatjoo, Maddie Woods, Schuyler Kresge, Chidiogo Nwakoby, Shun Ahmed, Ashwin Kumar, Jack Mok, Kaylin Davis, Varsha Nair. (Hustler Staff/Brina Ratangee)

Vanderbilt Programming Board (VPB) announced the Class of 2022’s 10 Outstanding Senior finalists in an Oct. 18 email newsletter and named Shun Ahmed the winner at the Oct. 23 football game. Outstanding Seniors are honored during homecoming weekend each year in recognition of their campus contributions, academic merit and leadership. 

After being nominated by various student organizations, around 300 seniors were given the opportunity to complete an application with essay questions relating to their campus involvement. Based on these applications and interviews, VPB homecoming chairs, the Outstanding Senior Subcommittee and faculty judges selected 20 candidates for the Outstanding Senior Election, which ran from Oct. 11 to Oct. 14. 

The 10 seniors who received the greatest number of votes were named finalists, with Ahmed receiving the most votes and being named the winner. Ahmed shared her reaction to being announced as the winner at the homecoming football game. 

“The announcement came out, and I just stopped,” Ahmed said. “Things went silent for a little bit, and I was like ‘oh wait, that’s me!’”

Campus involvement

Common characteristics among the honorees were their passion and commitment to improving the Vanderbilt and Nashville communities. 

As Campus Life Committee Chair in VSG, Ahmed has helped implement numerous initiatives, including restarting Swipes for a Cause and providing free menstrual products in on-campus bathrooms. She also has been actively involved in the Vanderbilt Performing Arts Community and DivestVU and served as student body vice president in the 2020-21 school year. Ahmed is a staff photographer and writer for The Hustler.

“I hope I leave behind this sense of persistence that no one decides that something is too far in or that they have no power,” Ahmed said. “You have a lot more power as an individual, and finding the people and community to support you is one of the most important things.”

Schuyler Kresge explained that he was able to have the greatest effect on the Vanderbilt and greater Nashville community by devoting all of his time and energy to one organization—Lights on the Lawn.

“Lights on the Lawn [is] a charity concert that raises money for a long-term apartment complex for survivors of sexual violence,” Kresge said. “We’ve raised over $170,000 over the past four years.”

Kaylin Davis, a native of Cook County, Illinois, hopes to apply what she has learned from leading Hidden Dores—an activist organization that aims to reduce barriers faced by marginalized communities on campus—and serving on Vanderbilt’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Political Action Committee to work in the Illinois justice system.

“After graduation, I will be joining the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission as a commissioner to advocate for policy reform inequity in Illinois’ justice system and hopefully the broader nation as well,” Davis said.

Melissa Goldin, an active member of Harmonic Notion, Gift of Life and the Friedman Laboratory, noted that other seniors’ passions and achievements are equally as impressive as those of the finalists.

“I think it’s a really cool award because everyone on this campus is outstandingly passionate about what they do. You can ask literally anyone what they are excited about, and they can list off their thing,” Goldin said. “This award recognizes your impact across campus and how you relate it to other organizations and the broader community, so it’s a really nice recognition.”

Ahmed echoed Goldin’s sentiments when describing her reaction to being nominated as an Outstanding Senior.

“The bewildering side of it is that there are so many incredible stories and people on this campus, so even just the chance to be in the running for this kind of stuff blows my mind,” Ahmed said.

Significance of the award

Each candidate has their own interpretation of what it means to be nominated for Outstanding Senior and progress to the finalist round. 

“To say that it means the world is a little hyperbolic, but I’m a first-generation, low-income college student. I’m also a triplet, and it’s the first time I’m truly doing something by myself,” Davis said. “To know I’ve been successful in doing that means that I haven’t failed 18-year-old me.”

Davis also hopes that her story will inspire and empower future generations to continue effecting positive change.

“I hope that Black women here feel like they can be loud, take up space and mean it, and not have to apologize for doing it,” Davis said. “I hope that they can offer pushback and air grievances in righteousness. I hope that I’ve shown people that setting a goal and achieving it is definitely possible here.”

For others, the experiences and relationships formed over the last four years shape the meaning behind their nomination. Kresge said that his fellow nominees and the collective work they have done during their time at Vanderbilt make his nomination even more special.

“What means the most are the other seniors recognized with me,” Kresge said. “It’s truly an honor to be listed alongside my peers who have all accomplished amazing things as well.”

Ahmed emphasized her immense appreciation for the award.

“I’ve realized how much I’ve come to learn and grow and just see so much more about the world these past four years,” Ahmed said. “I am legitimately so grateful and honored to be considered the Outstanding Senior.”

Challenges along the way

Several recipients stated that the challenges they faced during their time at Vanderbilt helped shape their influence on Vanderbilt and Nashville. Davis focused on how her intersecting identities affected her adjustment to Vanderbilt.

“My biggest challenge these past four years was navigating this university as a Black and poor woman,” Davis said. “[My siblings and I] are the first sets of people doing this in our family, so not having anyone to tell me what to do or how to do it or who to talk to was super hard. It was challenging, but definitely not a challenge I couldn’t conquer.”

Many candidates cited experience within student organizations, especially cultural organizations, as places for them to grow and overcome personal and societal challenges. Jack Mok, the nominee from the Student Center for Social Justice and Identity (SCSJI) and president of the Asian American Student Association (AASA), discussed the specific struggles of Asian Americans on campus. 

“I feel like even before the pandemic, it was hard for Asian Americans to feel like they belonged here and after COVID-19 hit, all the anti-Asian racism, it’s been really hard for them to feel like they fit in,” Mok said. “I really hope as president [of AASA] I made a difference in making people feel like they belong here.”

Finalist Chidogo Nwakoby referenced her experience in the African Student Union and how it helped in her journey of personal growth. 

“I’ve been involved since sophomore year, and honestly I think that’s been one of the more instrumental organizations, in terms of learning how to be a leader and pushing me to be a better one,” Nwakoby said. 

Kresge described how organizing an online concert for Lights on the Lawn helped him navigate the challenges of the pandemic.

“I’ve learned how to connect with people in a genuine way even if you’re not in the same physical space,” Kresge said.

Advice to underclassmen

In reflecting on their Vanderbilt journeys, this year’s recipients also offered advice to underclassmen and rising seniors. 

Goldin emphasized that involvement and compassion are key to getting the most out of the Vanderbilt experience, citing how her love of singing motivated her to join Harmonic Notion and helped her form close friendships. 

“Get involved as soon as you can, and pursue the things that have always made you happy,” Goldin said. “I didn’t know I was going to come to college and continue to sing, but then I joined Harmonic Notion. It became my favorite thing to do and where I met some of my best friends.”

Kresge noted that balance and depth of involvement are important to keep in mind when attempting to get involved on campus.

“I tried to get involved in a ton of different things as a freshman, but then came to realize that it is best to be really, really deeply involved in only a couple of activities or organizations,” Kresge said.

Mok also stressed the importance of forging and maintaining relationships. 

You don’t want to burn any bridges,” Mok said. “The most important thing for sustaining a movement towards a certain goal is maintaining human capital and investing in people. If you forge real relationships and invest in people, that’s how you get goals accomplished.” 

Ashwin Kumar, the nominee of Project Rishi, added that students should stand up for their beliefs with mutual respect and consideration.

“The legacy I want to leave behind is the importance of questioning the established while also maintaining tenacity and compassion and follow[ing] through with understanding and awareness,” Kumar said. 

Ahmed specifically discussed the power of support networks and conversation and how these values connect to her Kurdish heritage.

“Don’t be afraid to ask folks for help or for a conversation. I’m someone who values stories so much,” Ahmed said. “Being Kurdish-American and so tied to my Kurdish culture, one of the biggest things we prioritize is the ability to tell stories, since we’re a culture that passes on its history from family to family.”

Reminiscing on a picnic during her first year, Emma Rafatjoo reminded students to cherish the little memories that make up the college experience. 

“It was a beautiful Saturday after the winter, and everybody was playing frisbee or football. My faculty head of house, Dr. Noble, grilled burgers and hotdogs, and we had chips and watermelon, and had a full-out picnic on the lawn,” Rafatjoo said. “It was just super wholesome, and really made me feel at home.”

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About the Contributors
Ekta Anand, Former Staff Writer
Ekta Anand ('25) is from Atlanta, Ga., and is majoring in neuroscience and communication of science and technology in the College of Arts and Science. When not writing for The Hustler, you can find her dancing with the Bhangradores, watching a good movie or grabbing her third cup of coffee for the day. She can be reached at [email protected].
Brina Ratangee, News Editor
Brina Ratangee ('24) is a student in the College of Arts and Science planning to major in medicine, health & society and neuroscience. When not writing for The Hustler, she enjoys solving trivia/crosswords, playing the violin and spending time with friends. You can reach her at [email protected].
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