My journey back east provided a second wonderful time for me. And i considered it closure, much needed closure. i had a presentation at Vanderbilt University in the late afternoon, Monday, October 17, 2022.
Andrew Maraniss is the writer in residence in the Vanderbilt Athletic Department, author of four impactful and moving books. He also writes for ESPN. Better yet, Andrew has become a good friend. He sponsored my making this presentation about my book, Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings at Vanderbilt. If not abetted by Candice Storey Lee, Andrew was certainly supported in his efforts by this amazing woman. She has my utmost respect in so, so many ways. Andrew was an incredible host. We toured the athletic facilities at the McGugin Center and the continuing upgrading of Memorial Gymnasium, the unique and rather incredible facility for men and women’s basketball and the upcoming women’s volleyball programs.
It is always a joy for me to visit the athletic complex at Vandy. i keep thinking about my gym at Lebanon Junior High, 1956-58 and the Castle Heights gym, 1958-62. Both housed the dressing rooms for football, basketball, and Heights’ baseball dressing room was in the Heights gym. They were, compared to Vanderbilt’s facility…how to say this? Perhaps rudimentary. Yet the most impressive thing about Vanderbilt’s facilities was not the sophisticated manner in which they provided the utmost of support for the the athletes, but how they reflect the vision of David Williams, the late Vice Chancellor of Athletics, who said, “We do it the right way, the Vandy way, when addressing Vanderbilt’s dedication to ensure the Commodore athletes are provided an education and a full student-athlete experience, preparing them for life after athletics or pursuing their dreams in their sport at the professional level. i could go on and on, but i will just say i believe in Vanderbilt because Williams’ dream is being realized through the ongoing efforts of Candice Lee, the Vanderbilt head coaches in all of their sports, Andrew Maraniss, and a host of staff dedicated to success, not necessarily defined by always winning. Someday, as Clark Lea, the relative new coach of the football team has said they just might be moving towards winning at the highest level of major and minor collegiate sports. i believe in the Vandy way.
That tour Andrew gave me led to my presentation to about 30 midshipmen (men and women) from Vanderbilt’s NROTC program; their commanding officer, Captain Brian Erickson; the coordinator for military and veteran students, Jill Stratton; and Catherine Hooper, the Vanderbilt staffer who has been working on her novel (coming out soon) parallel to my working on my book who also has become a good friend. Candice.
Middle Tennessee State University Dean of English, Stephen E. Severn, came from Murfreesboro as well. i graduated with a BA in English from MTSU. After the turn of the year, Dr. Severn and i will have a “zoom” discussion about the Dean of English in my time, Scott Peck, and Bill Holland, my professor and friend who gave me insight into the Romantics and especially Wordsworth. The two of them were two of the most impactful people in my life. The discussion will add to the oral history of the MTSU English Department Dr. Severn is creating.
i also received one of the best compliments i have ever received in my life at the conclusion of my presentation. It came from one of the more impressive people i’ve come across: Candice Storey Lee, Phd, Vice Chancellor of Athletics, former basketball star, and a disciple of David Williams.
Candice spoke to the group and said, “It’s easy for someone in a minority to speak up for a minority. It is much more difficult for someone in the majority to speak up for a minority. Jim has done that with his book.”
A final note. In August 1964, i left Vanderbilt and NROTC with my tail between my legs. i was within one course of being the first person to flunk out (and lose my Navy scholarship) without failing a course. i had an amazing 14 D’s in four semesters, failing civil engineering “statics” in the spring semester of 1964. There are many reasons, but that failure has haunted me for my entire life. It also put me on a rather amazing path through life. i have sought closure a number of times and never quite reached it. But going back to present my book to the august group of folks who attended and especially NROTC men and women midshipmen served a closure for me.
Thank you, Andrew, Candice, Catherine, Jill, Captain Erickson, Dean Severn, and all of the midshipmen for making my day.