Graphic depicting students outside of the Commons Center.(Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Graphic depicting students outside of the Commons Center.(Hustler Multimedia/Lexie Perez)
Lexie Perez

CONNELL: Commons staff makes Vanderbilt feel like home

It is so easy to feel homesick as a first-year. With nonstop smiles and immense kindness, the Commons staff makes Vanderbilt feel like a place I can belong.

Nothing is more terrifying to an eighteen-year-old than moving over 500 miles away from home and leaving everything you know behind. Even though I’d come to Vanderbilt with the hopes of accomplishing my goals and dreams, I felt incredibly homesick during my first few weeks as a college student. I missed my family and the energy of being at home. Every Chiefs football game, which once meant a day of chicken wings and excitement, now looked like a lonely day in my tiny dorm bed. If I was having a bad day at home, I could always get a hug from my siblings, cuddle up to watch a movie on the TV and eat some warm homemade cookies. I never realized how much I took my upbringing for granted until I was far away from the life I loved. 

As a result, my biggest goal became finding my sense of belonging in Nashville — and Vanderbilt. After joining several groups on campus that just didn’t feel like a place where I would fit in and meeting many people that I just don’t click with, I am grateful to have found that feeling of home from the staff on the Martha Rivers Ingram Commons. 

The incredible staff on the Commons work around the clock to ensure that first-years are well-supported. Their work includes, but is not limited to, cooking and packaging our food, running the Munchie Mart, cleaning the Commons Center and our dorms, and most importantly making the Bongo Java coffee we all survive off of. They deserve so much credit for making this place feel like a second home. 

When things feel hard — like a cold and rainy day after a hard exam — there is always a staff member that can bring me joy. These interactions have taught me about my own potential to put happiness into the world. 

Homesickness is actually extremely common among first-year college students. According to an NIH study, a staggering 94% of students report at least some homesickness during their first term of college. That means that almost every single person you meet in your dorm, in the dining hall or in classes has experienced homesickness at some point here at Vanderbilt. These feelings can put a strain on newly-formed relationships, cause sleeping difficulties and even contribute to new or worsening depression. 

The Commons staff kept me from suffering the worst symptoms of homesickness. With a smile or a conversation in the dining hall, they helped me feel that Vanderbilt could also be my home. 

Beyond how committed they are to their jobs, the staff here on Commons are unfailingly kind to each and every student. The same wonderful lady named Lamour cleans my dorm every day with a bun, colorful headband and the best southern accent. On the occasions when we bump into one another in the elevator or on my floor, she’s eager to ask me how my day was with a big smile and cheery demeanor. Even on days when I am sick, she offers me assistance if I need it and always tells me to feel better soon. 

In many ways, Lamour reminds me of the sweet moments I experienced back home with my mom when I would come home from high school. Lamour’s presence on Commons brings back a part of the small-town charm of Seneca, Missouri that I miss each and every day. 

My fellow first-year Elijah Hernandez also praised the kindness and thoughtfulness of the Commons staff. 

“By far the best support system available to First-Year students when they move to campus is the residential staff,” Hernandez said. “Whether it’s the Head of House, the cleaning staff or the staff members who work at Commons Dining, each of them are here to help you make the transition into the Vanderbilt Family.” 

Hernandez recounts meeting the maintenance staff of Murray House, his home on Commons this year, while he was washing his dishes. Hernandez described that they introduced themselves to him, complimented his hair and made conversation with him about where he was from.

“Since then, they have provided supportive words during my finals and midterm week breakdowns, offered me tissues and consolation during moments when I just needed to talk, and greeted me with a big smile each time I bumped into them,” Hernandez said. “They are the prime example of what it means to treat everyone with kindness, as they truly care about each of the residents they look after.”

In many ways, Lamour reminds me of the sweet moments I experienced back home with my mom when I would come home from high school. Lamour’s presence on Commons brings back a part of the small-town charm of Seneca, Missouri that I miss each and every day. 

At the Commons dining hall and Munchie Mart — two places that most first-years visit almost every day — you’ll find infectiously happy and enthusiastic staff members as well. In the dining hall, the speakers play all sorts of fun music for the staff to sing along to while they serve food and cook meals. In my family, music in the kitchen was a must, so hearing it at Commons never fails to bring a smile to my face.

When taking a tour behind the scenes in the kitchen for my job with the Department of Sustainability, I also got to meet some of the wonderful men and women who work behind the scenes prepping meals and making the food you see in the Commons Munchie Mart. 

Not only were the staff incredibly welcoming to me during the tour, but they also created a community of their own behind the scenes. Watching them chat about their children at home or recount stories of their dogs as they worked diligently reminds me that the staff here is like a family of their own. 

This tour taught me one of the most important lessons that I’ve learned at Vanderbilt — beyond the family you’re born with, you also create families among your colleagues at work and your community in college. 

After starting my second semester at Vanderbilt, it has become clear to me that the one thing that makes it so easy to fall into a rhythm of being at college is the presence of the staff. When things feel hard — like a cold and rainy day after a hard exam — there is always a staff member that can bring me joy. These interactions have taught me about my own potential to put happiness into the world. 

The Commons staff reminds me of my own ability to compliment others, ask about a stranger’s day and approach all of my interactions with grace and intentionality. We should all learn from them about the importance of treating others with kindness, regardless of what kind of day we are having. Vanderbilt — and the world — needs more people like our Commons staff.

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About the Contributors
Kate Connell
Kate Connell, Opinion Editor
Kate Connell (‘26) is from Seneca, Mo., and studies psychology in the College of Arts and Science on the pre-medical track. She previously served as Managing Editor and Opinion Copy Editor and Podcasts Director. When not working at The Hustler, you can find her getting coffee, relaxing at Centennial Park or stressing in the Stevenson building. She can be reached at [email protected]
Lexie Perez
Lexie Perez, Graphics Editor
Lexie Perez (‘26) is from Northern Virginia and is majoring in climate studies and human and organizational development and minoring in business in the College of Arts and Science. She enjoys listening to 70s and 80s pop music, doing the daily Wordle and rooting for the Nashville Predators and Cincinnati Bengals. She can be reached at [email protected].
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