PERROTTA: From start to finish, the discarded class

The Class of 2024 missed out on many Vanderbilt traditions due to COVID-19, but Vanderbilt has only continued to push us to the side as part of a larger campaign against traditions.
An illustration of a graduate looking on to two scenes of Vanderbilt Commencement: one on Alumni Lawn and one at Geodis Park. (Hustler Multimedia/Amanda Dai)
An illustration of a graduate looking on to two scenes of Vanderbilt Commencement: one on Alumni Lawn and one at Geodis Park. (Hustler Multimedia/Amanda Dai)
Amanda Dai

Through no fault of our own, the Class of 2024 has not fit in from the moment we stepped on campus. The pandemic thrusted us into university life without the typical orientation to campus and Nashville to which other classes were privy. The cherished Commons experience was reduced to a three-month stay on a lawn littered with white circles designating where to sit, featuring lonely meals and pages of black rectangles on a screen. Half of the class didn’t even join the Commons experience until Spring 2021 after the traumatic “Flip.” Tailgates, socials and quintessential Vanderbilt traditions like Founders Walk, Anchor Dash, Commodore Quake and Commons Ball were void from our first year, but the university promised to make it up to us. 

I foolishly believed them. 

In the years since the height of the pandemic, Vanderbilt has cast the Class of 2024 to the side, razing nearly all traditions from our time here. 

The Class of 2024’s class photo, captured on Aug. 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University)

Vanderbilt attempted to reconcile the Class of 2024’s first year with the Sophomore Experience, a well-intentioned program meant to finally include the Class of 2024 in Vanderbilt’s traditions. While the thought behind this programming was appreciated, it fell flat by changing the very traditions it meant to continue. For instance, the iconic Class of 2024 picture was taken on Library Lawn rather than its typical location on Commons Lawn. This picture is still not featured in the Commons Center with the rest of the recent classes, shunning us out of Vanderbilt’s history. Moreover, the Sophomore Experience was not unique to the Class of 2024, as it has continued for other classes. Of course, all students can benefit from a little extra support and celebration, but this move overlooks the entire point of the programming — to make up for the Class of 2024’s one-of-a-kind first year on campus.

Despite the Class of 2024’s rocky start at Vanderbilt and many missed traditions along the way, Commencement was the one event that I assumed would go unchanged. I’ve been looking forward to Commencement for years and am excited to share the moment with the special people I’ve met here. However, it would be remiss to ignore how Vanderbilt has marked the end of the Class of 2024’s time in Nashville with even more changes that are devoid of tradition.   

The most glaring change to graduation this year is its “unique backdrop” of Geodis Park. Traditionally, Commencement is held on Alumni Lawn — hence its name. In years past, Vanderbilt students started their time at Vanderbilt on Alumni Lawn with Founders Walk and ended it at the same location for graduation. 

“After years of hard work and dedication, the student experience comes full circle at Commencement as graduates ceremonially exit the same gates of Vanderbilt that they entered during Founders Walk,” an August 2023 Vanderbilt article reads. Now that this full circle is broken, what is the point of the Founders Walk or Alumni Lawn’s name? To mark ruined traditions?

Most shockingly, Vanderbilt has yet to acknowledge this break in tradition. Vanderbilt’s Commencement website still reads that Alumni Lawn is currently the location of graduation, as it has been since 1988. The university even directly declined to comment to The Hustler on the reasons behind this change. This situation sends a clear message: Traditions are irrelevant to the Vanderbilt administration. As usual, the Class of 2024 is receiving the brunt of their apathy for the traditions that make the college experience so special. Although the new venue boasts various benefits such as extra seating, these advantages are clouded by the absence of a valuable tradition.

Geodis Park poses more problems for Commencement. In addition to the glaring absence of parking availability at the venue, there does not seem to be a weather contingency plan for the ceremony. Although the university assured The Hustler that some seats in Geodis Park are covered, it is a bit concerning that the university is willing to leave graduates on the field and uncovered guests soaked in the event of rain. In comparison, an indoor backup venue — Bridgestone Arena — was booked for the Class of 2023, showing disparities in planning and accommodations for the Class of 2024 yet again.

This situation sends a clear message: Traditions are irrelevant to the Vanderbilt administration. As usual, the Class of 2024 is receiving the brunt of their apathy for the traditions that make the college experience so special.

In another negligent move, the first direct communication to the Class of 2024 about purchasing regalia came at the beginning of March. Oddly, the mass email began with “If you have not yet ordered your cap and gown for Commencement, time is getting short!”, despite the complete lack of prior notification about the regalia purchasing process. Although trivial, this email reads like an afterthought, emphasizing the lack of effort put into the Class of 2024’s graduation experience and time at Vanderbilt. Perhaps the university is too busy figuring out how to shuttle thousands of people to parking-less Geodis Park to worry about such details for the Class of 2024. 

Once the Class of 2024 figures out how to order their caps and gowns, an interesting surprise awaits them inside the regalia box. The charm on the Class of 2024’s graduation tassel is embellished with “VU150,” despite how the university was founded 151 years ago now, making this symbol representative of the Class of 2023, not 2024. Not only is this detail factually inaccurate, but it also diminishes the uniqueness of each class and paints the Class of 2024 as a leftover from the university’s sesquicentennial. The Class of 2023’s tassels featured the same insignia, emphasizing its inaccuracy and lack of individuality. There are plenty of aspects of the Class of 2024’s experience at Vanderbilt that could have been celebrated on the tassel charm, but the university once again showed its thoughtlessness with this emblem.   

Speaking of the university’s sesquicentennial, various offices at Vanderbilt partnered with Vanderbilt Student Government to host a “Sesquicentennial Senior Prom” for the Class of 2024. This event underscores confusion about why celebrations for the Class of 2024 are labeled as “sesquicentennial.” These mistakes further dilute the special nature of the Class of 2024 — and the actual sesquicentennial class, serving as a half-baked effort by the university to prioritize its anniversary more than celebrate its students.

I’m also left wondering why the university seems to be putting more effort into maintaining high school traditions like senior prom rather than Vanderbilt traditions. In its announcement about the prom, Vanderbilt confusingly drew parallels between the global COVID-19 pandemic and the university’s 150th anniversary, stating that they were both events that made the Class of 2024’s Vanderbilt experience “unprecedented” and lack traditions. Simultaneously, though, Vanderbilt is consciously tearing apart such traditions. The lack of care for the Class of 2024 and traditions at Vanderbilt more generally is not hard to spot. 

There are no emblems to step around to avoid bad luck, no arches to avoid before graduation — nothing to connect class to class besides the fact that we all were here at some point.

The Class of 2024 repeatedly getting the short end of the stick is part of a larger effort by Vanderbilt to remove semblances of Vanderbilt’s past. In addition to this year’s Commencement changes, annual events like Founders Walk, Commodore Quake, Anchor Dash, the Commencement Strawberries and Champagne Celebration and Rites of Spring have also recently been watered down or eliminated altogether. Over the past few years, Founders Walk has morphed into a formal event without much upperclassmen involvement, which is vastly different from its former energetic welcome. Vanderbilt also severely defunded the Vanderbilt Programming Board’s Music Group this year, causing the cancellation of Commodore Quake and the shortening of Rites of Spring to a one-day “festival” — if you can even still call it that. Anchor Dash, too, is gone. Last year, the Strawberries and Champagne Commencement tradition was moved to Graduates Day and modified to leave out the iconic strawberries, rendering the tradition practically lost. Other Commencement traditions like the Commons Open House Receptions have been cut in the past few years, too, shortening Commencement celebrations to two days instead of three. Not to mention that the university changed its entire brand in 2022, as well, strongly veering from the traditional markers of Vanderbilt.

Notably, out of the 10 traditions highlighted in an August 2023 Vanderbilt article about university traditions, five have been altered or removed this academic year. Other traditions in the list, like move-in and student cultural dance performances, are not Vanderbilt-specific, showing how the school is grasping at straws to appear to harbor traditions. It has come to the point where the recently-elected VSG president and vice president even included “creat[ing] a long-lasting tradition” as part of their campaign platform. 151 years after Vanderbilt’s founding, such a tradition should already be established. If Vanderbilt is as interested in attracting students and celebrating the university’s history as it seems to be, why is each tradition — and, with it, student and alumni ties to the university — slowly being erased? 

Although I’ve made my best friends at Vanderbilt and memories to last a lifetime, the Class of 2024 is missing a deeper connection to the school — an issue that will persist with the incoming classes as well if traditions continue to be removed and each class is not celebrated adequately. My memories of Vanderbilt are tied to the friends I’ve made here, sunny days lounging on the lawns and the experiences I sought out for myself on campus and in the greater Nashville community, not because of age-old traditions or university-facilitated moments. There are no emblems to step around to avoid bad luck, no arches to avoid before graduation — nothing to connect class to class besides the fact that we all were here at some point. These traditions are special parts of universities, rites of passage that students fondly anticipate and anchors that tie alumni to their alma mater. Unfortunately, many of them have ended with the Class of 2024. 

Vanderbilt Commencement is extra special for the Class of 2024: For many of us, it will be our first time donning a cap and gown to walk a stage. Yet, Vanderbilt has done the opposite of making it special for us by instead chipping away at Commencement as it has other campus traditions. The Class of 2024 is ending our time at Vanderbilt the same way we started — pushed to the side; only this time, there’s no pandemic to blame.

CORRECTED: This article was corrected on April 8, 2024, at 1:53 p.m. CST. It previously incorrectly stated that the Class of 2024 is the 149th graduating class.

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About the Contributor
Rachael Perrotta
Rachael Perrotta, Former Editor-in-Chief
Rachael Perrotta ('24) is from Cranston, R.I., and majored in cognitive studies, communication of science and technology and political science and minored in gender and sexuality studies in Peabody College. She was also previously Senior Advisor and News Editor. If she's not pressing you for a comment, she's probably trying to convince you that she's over 5 feet tall, cheering on the Red Sox or wishing Nashville had a beach. She can be reached at [email protected].
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Comments (9)

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C
Class of 2022 Oldhead
1 month ago

Students could just skip graduation to make a point. Just all get together and throw a big party on Alumni. I’m sure some people wouldn’t go for it, but if Diermeier ends up embarrassed (my theory for why they wanted it somewhere off campus where people can’t as easily leave), the point has gotten across.

G
George Albu
1 month ago

As a rising sophomore, it’s honestly sobering to think about the lost traditions the class of ’27 will never have at this rate…

P
Paula Maier
1 month ago

You are right on the money for this classes experience. As a parent, it had been a series of disappointments year after year in my sons college experience.

A
Alex Quintana ‘05; Owen ‘06
1 month ago

Really well written piece. As a graduate of the class of ‘05 it’s sad to hear of some of these traditions going away. Interestingly, some of them were started during my time on campus. Commodore Quake and Founders Walk both started in the fall of ‘02 (I believe) making the class of 2006 the first class to have both. The Commons obviously weren’t built until later so all of those traditions are “new”. Especially sad to hear about Rites. When I was on campus that 3 day festival seemed like it had been around for generations. There were rumors that one year (in the 80s?) Jimmy Buffet played and then got high at a party in Towers. But to the point you make in your story, these sorts of legends are what ties alumni together and back to the school. Without a shared history, who are we as a community?

S
Shannon Hoelscher
1 month ago

Exceptionally well-written with poignant evidence throughout. As the parent of a current student at Vanderbilt, the chiseling away of traditions is disheartening.

C
Caleb Boyer
1 month ago

Retweet to this part especially:

My memories of Vanderbilt are tied to the friends I’ve made here, sunny days lounging on the lawns and the experiences I sought out for myself on campus and in the greater Nashville community, not because of age-old traditions or university-facilitated moments. There are no emblems to step around to avoid bad luck, no arches to avoid before graduation — nothing to connect class to class besides the fact that we all were here at some point. These traditions are special parts of universities, rites of passage that students fondly anticipate and anchors that tie alumni to their alma mater. Unfortunately, many of them have ended with the Class of 2024. “

A
Anon
1 month ago

So, if the first graduating class was spring of 1875, that does mean that the class of 2024 is the 150th graduating class. It was 149 years ago, but you count 1875 inclusively. So that is the explanation of that, it’s not a mistake.

V
vandy co2023
1 month ago

Well-written article that echoes the sentiment of many recent alums as well

D
Darcee Mauger
1 month ago

This is spot on and as a parent I have been active in trying to be heard to voice the same opinion and have been shut down, ignored and referred to FAQ’s, where none of my questions appeared. This is so sad.