When I came to college, each day I teetered precipitously between being wildly insecure and a raging people pleaser. There were to be no bad days in college, because just one would send me into a self-loathing tailspin–and then everyone would know. They’d know I didn’t have everything figured out, that I second-guessed myself and daily thought I was a burden to any friend I had. What I like most about myself now is that I like myself.

In high school I often felt left out for two reasons: first, because I had no siblings, my family had little lasting relevance to the rest of my community, and second, because we didn’t (and don’t) have the same amount of wealth that so often surrounded me in the halls. I worked on making myself relevant in high school, crafting a person I decided other people would want to be friends with: a girl who always wore a smile, willing to help, and hid her long, mouthful-of-marbles last name from others under nicknames and grand gestures of kindness and “please just like me please don’t make fun of me.”

We didn’t belong to a country club, we didn’t have a pretty hearth to take our Christmas card photo in front of, we had a black and white printer, we still used the air conditioners that went in the window during the summer. This is all normal for lots of families around America, I now understand. What we did have was love, and humor, and goofiness. That is what I now treasure about my family and our little home, but is harder for a status-conscious 17-year-old. For the community I grew up in, I was sure that the other kids tiptoed around me: my lack, my plainness evident.

Sometimes I felt whole, though. The problem was always gathering all the different parts of my life together. After my sophomore year of college, I realized fake Kendall was showing again. In a lot of ways, Vanderbilt is similar to my high school–keep up appearances, show your wealth in a socially sanctioned way, be the benefactor, not the recipient. But there was one place I could always go: the people I’ve come to call my cargo pants squad.

The cargo pants squad used to be more youthful and more childless than we (they) are now. It started with my mom and dad, Kate and Jeff, and two other couples: Rick and Julie, and Mary Beth and Andy. All newlyweds back in the early 90s, they have stayed friends through job changes and cross-country moves and the births of five children, collectively. Two summers ago, we rented a cottage on a lake in Ohio, the halfway point between two of our families in Illinois and Wisconsin and the third, the rogue ones in New York. We slept a bit haphazardly all over the house, sat around eating hot dogs off of paper plates, without worrying about what we looked like. The moms wore their cargo pants (of course).

Do you have any family friends that are more like family than friends? That’s your cargo pants squad. Maybe yours wears Barbour instead–that’s cool, some squads are way more stylish than others and we could probably learn from yours. Wherever you feel like yourself instead of a campus persona of yourself–that’s your place, and I want you to continue creating and fighting for that space.

The cargo pants squad is where I feel completely myself, with people who had known my little infant self all the way to me now, at 21. They’re a place where I didn’t have to be a skinny and tiny and smart and funny Vanderbilt girl, but since my experiences with them weren’t looped in to my daily life on campus, or heavily documented on Instagram just like most things are at school, I kept telling myself over and over: “That’s not what’s real, Vanderbilt is what’s real.”

The funny part is, they’re both real. In deciding that my no-frills family clique was the most real part of my life, I suffocated any real connection to other people here. Even while being a student here, Vanderbilt to me was the Vanderbilt I saw in all the girls with expensive branded clothes and going to tailgates at the frats–I didn’t know how to replace my surface level analysis of my school with a more nuanced understanding.

Today I turned in my last final paper and finished my second-to-last semester of college. If I had to tell anything to the Kendall starting her first semester of college in August 2013, I’d ask her to not fight the bad days. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a room with about a hundred other people, and looked around to find the faces of all the people I’ve known throughout these past three years. If I think about it long enough, I can think of both good and memories with each of these people, joyful ones that felt like parts of movies you want to rewind again and again and terrible ones that I felt like we couldn’t endure. But our lives are sweeter for knowing each other and for not forcing bad days into good ones, for just letting them be and learning from them.

So back to what I said–what I like most about myself now is that I like myself, most days, after so many years of not. I hope you’re getting there too, or are working on getting there somehow.




This is what 1 Corinthians 13 tells me:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.

I put a lot of effort into knowing the right way to respond to outside situations: not too conservative, not too liberal, grabbing the thin in-between of “I have thoughtfully reasoned out my argument” and “I care for everyone involved.” I live in the gray. But whether I care to learn about another person or to learn just enough to respond in a self-complimenting way, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t pray enough for love to not sound like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.

On this day, and every day, that’s not enough. Today I pray that my desire for love is greater than my desire for a well-reasoned word.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

I love knowing–knowing anything. Information is a commodity at Vanderbilt–information about ancient literature or who’s going to what date party this weekend or how the electoral college works or who’s devastated because they didn’t get that exec position they wanted.

I firmly believe that the story of each person walking around me on campus today is more interesting and more worthy of being known than short quips of information that only make me feel better about my status of “someone worthy of having information.” Those stories aren’t told when we’re more concerned about amassing wells of information, echo chambers that leave us with no relationships to show for ourselves when it’s all over.

It hurts me when people claim that “if only people would just focus on God instead of the election” because that doesn’t address what anyone’s actually crying out for. For a lot of people, the personal is political. Disregarding that disregards who people truly believe themselves to be, and it’s hard to know someone if you don’t care to see them.

If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I don’t know what a Donald Trump presidency will look like, and I truly want him to surprise us. I pray for the Lord to lead him in a presidency that does not bully, does not call names, does not tell people that they do not matter. I pray this because I believe God is in control.

But I think the social damage caused by Trump’s words is deep and wide and feels insurmountable. We don’t understand each other, we of the blue cities and you of the red towns. I want us to, though. I wonder how much of this election was an echo chamber–of how much we as students actually sat down to think about why rural towns believe what they do, and vice versa. I’m guilty of not engaging in those kinds of conversations, but today shows me their importance. Instead of jumping to my first thoughts–how could you believe such things? how are you so ignorant?–I hope to ask questions, to take a deep dive into what life is like, before sharing why we may differ.

College has shaped me by introducing me to people who I would have never met otherwise. To you, then: I’m thankful for your stories and that you entrust me with them. Relationships, even on days when I act like they’re a burden, are what I truly believe make this world go round.

I want to leave you with this, from Brian Andreas:

Life changes when you understand, all the way to the heart of you, that there’s only you and me, catching each other when we fall, and standing up again and seeing if we can do it better this time.

Please keep catching  me–I’ll try for the same.


my cup overflows

Right before I moved into college, I was forwarded an article about the danger in forcing college to be the best four years of your life. Always one for measured and moderately unpopular arguments, I felt smart agreeing with it. But something about living here makes it hard to imagine any other type of life, at least for now.

Very often when students on my tours ask of my favorite thing about Vanderbilt, I draw a blank. Of course, the people–but that feels easy. I usually answer by trying to explain the intricate way Vanderbilt is now sewn into my heart, the backdrop for my comings and goings, my joyful victories and bitter losses. My favorite thing about it is that it’s mine and it’s home. Of course, this is easier said than done, but there’s something special–enigmatic–about living in a place ripe for challenge and growth. When I visited Vanderbilt as a junior in high school, I imagined myself walking this place, taking fun classes and making friends and frankly, getting out of where I’m from.

What I got here was, thankfully, harder and better than my expectations. I’m thankful I’m not the same person I was the summer I turned 18 and drove down to Nashville. If I could tell my 18 year old move-in-day self anything, it would be first that the Lord is good and second that the Lord does not want you to stay as you are.

When people claim to have no regrets, I get a little suspicious because I believe regret is a real and healthy part of life, a part of life that the Lord uses to teach us in the way we should go.

If I could, I’d tell that 18-year-old girl to write down more of the parts of her days she loved. That she’d want to remember everything about the afternoons sitting out on Wyatt Lawn, or sneaking onto the roof of Hank, or doing dance routines and eating big cookie with a chorus of friends snuggled up all around the common room. I’d tell her to spend more face time with those fringe friends, the friends of friends who have something important to speak into her life if she’d only listen. I’d tell her to be honest with more people and be intimidated by fewer.

I’d tell her that she’d fall in love with Nashville in a strange way, one that will eventually push her out. Nashville isn’t home forever, and she isn’t a perfect fit, but one summer she’ll end up calling the Kroger on 21st “my Kroger,” making one-item trips for frozen pizzas and ice cream cartons, and living in Nashville will have snuck right into a sweet part of her heart.

It seems like every day now, the Lord does at least one thing to remind me of His provision for my life. Sometimes it’s a text from a friend asking if I want to come to a coffee shop or a play or just to dinner. Sometimes it’s a feeling of peace in the midst of job and grad school applications. Sometimes it’s a well-timed worship song to lose myself in, or a sermon that takes up pages and pages of notes. Sometimes it’s a book I get caught up in.

Sophomore year someone read me a quote that I want scrawled into the heart of every college freshman or freshman in life:

She moved about her days with wonder and ease, for her whole story had been told, and she was still loved.

These are the days, but so are all the other, not-in-college ones. How truly breathtaking to watch as the Lord walks me into wonder and ease for this final year, and then the rest of this life. My prayer is the same for each one of you reading this! I love y’all!


the heartbeat

My phone is dead, so I’m present.

“I have a thirteen-page paper due tomorrow and I just found my major source. And it’s due tomorrow.”

What are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat?

As I settle into the overstuffed green-and-white polka-dotted chair—my spot of choice—an a cappella group’s dress rehearsal is breaking up. Goodbyes are sung as they sling backpacks and tote bags around experienced shoulders and sing Friday night teasers at half-volume.

I could exchange one boy in athletic shorts and headphoned ears for another, but I don’t want to. The girls, too—t-shirts and leggings, but I want them all to be individuals. All I can think about these days—never drilled into my head enough freshman year—is how worthy these people are. How worthy thousands of other kids at other schools in other states are, too. I feel honored. The numbers half of my brain knows that statistics and aggregate descriptions of “Vandy kids,” of how we dress and talk and act in similar ways, are not meant to offend but to ease the cognitive load on our brains. But I always want to keep thinking that the boy who just walked by me, with the carabiner hooking his water bottle to his backpack, polishing off an apple and checking his phone, easily just himself, is worth knowing.

Discerning a group project or a group of friends here is easy if you know what to look for. Friends sit strewn across a couple of tables or some couches, the volume ranging from murmured equations to loud laughter, disrupting productivity but something we wouldn’t change for the world. Group projects—a dime a dozen in Rand at nine—look at their computers, look at each other, look at their computers again. They’re brainstormed by hand-talking boys and nailed down by shrugging girls.

“We’re going third, so we can practice it before we go.”

“Yeah, and I have nothing else to do tonigh—

“Oh yeah, I was gonna practice a ton tonight.”

One boy, headphoned like I could have predicted, turns the corner, slapping a wrapper into the trash and bending below the frosted glass classroom windows to forage for a study room. Just as he makes the loop in defeat, another headphoned boy replaces him. Same goal, no luck, everyone always has the same idea Wednesdays at nine.

There are problem sets to be erased and rewritten, last-minute job applications to be submitted, Munchie runs to make. These scenes are common to every college campus on a US News list, but we don’t know anything else. It’s special for us.

I get up to go to the bathroom and grab today’s issue of the Hustler off the newspaper rack on my way back. Apparently they print one for every undergrad student at Vanderbilt, but there are always tons of extras sitting around until next Wednesday morning when they become old news. In the office this morning, we got a double delivery—so practically every family visiting Vanderbilt today at 10am could read about Vanderbilt’s year in review.

It’s becoming harder to answer the question of why I chose to come to Vanderbilt, maybe because it’s been 4 years since it was a choice and since then, Vanderbilt has strapped itself right into the most mundane and daily part of my heart. It’s my favorite place because it’s the backdrop for every day these days.

There are lots of ways for this place to make headlines. Sexual assault is probably the most salient reason. There are other, less grave reasons—we’re the happiest student body in the country two years running. An accomplishment for sure, but I’m more interested in the insignificant Wednesday nights. It’s someone’s best night tonight, and someone else’s worst night. Actually, at fewer than 7,000 students, I don’t feel totally comfortable with those odds. Tonight might just be an average one for all of us, but we get to practice for real life here and I dig that.

Right now you could probably find some kids out doing the things we brand Vanderbilt with: at indie house shows that just happen to happen, down on Broadway, in big important organizational meetings because we’re all so involved. But my favorite times to remember are the ones that could just fall short of a mention–sitting on a roommate’s bed procrastinating homework or sitting next to each other not talking, just studying. Those are the special ones to me.

I used to think that every day of my life had to be curated into the best day of my life and now I just know that my attitude changes everything. I love walks around Centennial and studying on the red couches and driving to get Chick Fil A or Cookout milkshakes and FaceTimes to another country and I feel like I’ll be forever indebted to this place that has given me a playground to learn and love for a whole four years. How ridiculously generous is the experience of going to college?

It’s pretty trendy to call people out when they don’t recognize the things they’ve been handed on a silver platter, but all I see here are kids that are just trying to keep going. And I love them so much for it. Even with all the flashy stock answers I can give you about the resources at school, learning about myself and learning about other people have been both my biggest confidence-booster and biggest drawing board here.

I really like that question–what are the scenes of a campus with a heartbeat? It reminds me that life is about other people and I should grab as many chances to feel that heartbeat as I can while I’m still here.


the elephant (and donkey) in the room

Common measures of diversity are diversity in race, gender, religion, and political ideology.

Do you want to know something a little scary?

Right now, if you were to give every American a choice between hiring two equally qualified people, differing only on one key metric, more Americans would employ the person who aligns with them politically than using any other measure of difference. The study, from researchers at Stanford and Princeton, found that while social norms constrain the way individuals might act toward a person of another race, there are no constraints governing the way we think, speak about or act toward people with opposing political views–because we’re almost taught to see them as despicable.

I apply this to myself loosely and understand why: choosing the person who aligns with me politically feels safe; it feels like we would “get” each other despite all other seen or unseen differences.

I heard a similar sentiment in church a couple weeks ago: it’s a quote from David Brooks, a New York Times columnist, from the September 2003 issue of the Atlantic. His article “People Like Us” talks about how “we all pay lip service to the melting pot, but we really prefer the congealing pot:”

Maybe somewhere in this country there is a truly diverse neighborhood in which a black Pentecostal minister lives next to a white anti-globalization activist, who lives next to an Asian short-order cook, who lives next to a professional golfer, who lives next to a postmodern-literature professor and a cardiovascular surgeon. But I have never been to or heard of that neighborhood.

In this congealing pot, much more common than the melting pot, we find “people who make strenuous efforts to be with people who are like themselves.”

You know what I imagine could help along that imaginary, truly diverse neighborhood on its way to neighborly harmony, conflict-free block parties and everyone paying their HOA fees on time? A consensus on political ideology. Wouldn’t it help the Asian short-order cook and cardiovascular surgeon get along if the entire neighborhood was all in for Bernie this year, big proponents of his socialist leanings? Or wouldn’t it help the black Pentecostal minister and the postmodern-literature professor get along if the whole neighborhood could bond over how Trump would make America great again?

Political ideology seems to be the great equalizer, the silver bullet that clinches either our “click” with one person or explains why that other person and I just could never get along. But when we assume that political ideology covers a multitude of sins in diversity, when I assume that another student at my school will be a better friend to me because of her convergence with me on political ideas, I do not serve myself well.

I can only speak for myself. My friends fit overwhelmingly in one category: white women, from various suburban areas of the US and middle-class or higher socioeconomic status, who are undergraduate students at private colleges, and would call themselves Christians as they believe in Jesus Christ as a Savior. They absolutely range more when political beliefs are measured, but if I had to pin it down, I’d say a majority would identify as conservative or moderate (or maybe just “more conservative than this school is”).

So how did I get here? Where are my friends who aren’t white, who are living on or below the poverty line, who weren’t given the opportunity of college or just chose a different path? Where are my friends who aren’t Christian?

Are my friends all the same because I gravitate toward women who identify similarly to me politically?

This isn’t a call for me or for anyone else to change who they’re friends with, because I think diversity can show up in smaller and more nuanced ways than we can even imagine. I learn from my friends daily, in the diverse ways they approach conflict and relationships and passions based on the differences in experiences we’ve had as people.

But relationships don’t form in a vacuum, and mine have come from a convergence of values that seem to represent themselves in large numbers in certain sorority houses, and certain Christian organizations, and at certain schools in general. What if I stopped thinking that the only fulfilling friendships I can find are ones where political ideology unites us?

I’m generally cynical of venues like town hall discussions, where fiercely-held opinions can be spouted without any fear of reproach aside from that which comes from the microphone on the opposite side of the room. I want to value the relationship with the person I’m looking at when I share my opinion even more than I value that opinion, so I rarely share partisan articles on Facebook or raise my hand in heated discussions in class. But don’t martyr me–there are as many problems with staying quiet in important conversations as there are with oversharing.

I’ve learned to share your opinions carefully my whole life. My dad holds relatively unpopular political views, and he is one of the most thoughtful people I have ever known. He’s the one, not a staunch Democrat or unswavering Republican, that taught me to question what I hear from both sides–which is why at home, the news gets switched from CBS to Fox and back, because “you won’t get the full story from any one source.” I’m cautioned, as a college student, that higher education is an incredibly liberal place, and we always benefit by hearing where the other side comes from before forming our own beliefs.

Last Wednesday, I went to a panel discussion where two insightful men spoke: Greg Lukianoff, the president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, and Jelani Cobb, a staff writer for the New Yorker who generally covers race, politics, history, and culture. Cobb and Lukianoff debated free speech in higher education, specifically the prevalence of safe spaces, trigger warnings and “outrage culture.” When asked whether Carol Swain, a polarizing professor of law at Vanderbilt, should not be punished for her offensive beliefs about Muslim and transgendered communities, Cobb and Lukianoff agreed on this: it’s important to remember that people whose views you see as repugnant are supported by people who believe your views are just as.

Of course it’s confusing to conservatives why liberals are impassioned about accepting the gender spectrum. And of course it’s confusing to liberals why conservatives fiercely protect their right to gun ownership. But maybe what we haven’t yet tried is seeing if these misunderstandings can be sorted out in fellowship. In the same panel, Lukianoff referred to a concept called “epistemic humility”: the humility of understanding that I do not know everything. I’ll never know everything about the experiences of women who have gotten abortions, or administrators whose careers have ended from campus activism, or families whose scandals make the headlines for months.

I’ll never know everything, but neither will anyone else. That’s the biggest relief.


let’s go again

January held tension and celebration and long nights. January saw me wobble around on roller skates and package presents in the hospital.

February brought a busted ego and sweet friends to sit knee to knee with, times to help me relearn friendship. February made me desperate for the Lord.

March shook me free of my expectations; March taught me how to be a friend. March brought me face to face with places just in my backyard, just outside comfortable Vanderbilt.

April gave me a roller coaster through the best examples of sisterhood I’ve ever had. April had me quoting Max Lucado and teary over the year’s end.

May brought me home.

June threw me into an apartment with bleary-eyed mornings and rent to pay and roommates and a big girl job. June taught me that offices with laughter and collaboration and donuts definitely exist and that Christ makes it possible.

July was sweet. July meant trips to the lake and day-old Jake’s Bakes cookies and apartment-couch-lying. July felt like recess.

August kicked me out of the country and into the freshest homesickness I’ve felt.

September showed me dinners around a foreign table. September showed me that laughter knows no linguistic boundaries.

October brought me to my knees, smacking me in the face with how much I do not know. October taught me that wobbly trust is still trust.

November saw global terror and sorrow that we felt so close in Europe. November was weary.

December meant goodbye to one home and hello to another: hello to happy reunions made of fudge-baking and people-watching and tex-mex-eating. December made it hard to say goodbye to 2015.

It’s January again. He’s whispering something, too: not “Be better this year” or “Figure yourself out.” It’s quiet, but He’s whispering of more fellowship and faith and growth, just as He did all the years before: “Let’s go again.”



Krakow had a little Christmas market just beyond the main square, already alive with Poles ambling through the stalls in the first week of November. Vats of meat pumped steam into the crisp air. I loaded meat and cheese pierogi onto my paper plate, handed over a few złoty and kept moving through the vendors. It was chilly, but not enough that we couldn’t sit on the curb while we ate. Our dinners, heavy meals of dumplings and potatoes and egg rolls, were an aggressive introduction to Polish cuisine; they forced our oil-stained paper plates to surrender not long after we finished. The food kept us warm as we watched middle-aged men bang away on trumpets and keyboards on a stage some yards away.

This is why we don’t exterminate culture. There are countless more scenes I could describe in detail from the past four months, from train rides through the Czech Republic to parades in London and pubs in Dublin, that are clear reminders to me of the world’s cultural diversity to be valued and celebrated. I’m sure you could tell me an equal amount of life’s celebrations from this fall at school, conversations in dorm rooms and fall break road trips and football games.

That same trip to Poland is where we got submerged in everything we’d ever wanted to know about the Holocaust. I saw portraits of people whose worlds were exterminated because of who they were culturally and religiously. I learned about their families, their summer vacations to the beach, their favorite subjects in school. It’s hard to comprehend how groups of people are deemed worthless, but I think it might start when we question the worth of people we don’t know.

Sometimes if I’m not careful, my Americana kicks in here: Only 5 million people live in Denmark, they have to learn English to stay internationally relevant, is this place too obscure yet? But when I read this story, I remembered why we don’t exterminate culture. It might not be efficient or easy to learn Danish, but a smorgasbord of cultures, with unique approaches to families, transportation, education, and every other aspect of lifethese are important to me. I don’t want this country to become a copy of America, because so much of what I’ve learned here comes from the little ways Denmark is its own culturally.

I leave to go home on Sunday. I’ll miss the late-summer creak of the trampoline, my host siblings’ laughter wandering in through the back door. I’ll miss hearing the music of little Danish girls sounding out the words of picture books on the S-train, helped by silver-haired grandmothers. I’ll miss the Danish addiction to licorice and fumbling with the kroner I still don’t know how to use and never understanding what’s going on when my host family turns on the TV.

Of all the life that happened around me this semester, I understood what was spoken maybe 10% of the time. While sometimes frustrating, that’s where the beauty is. For all the times this semester I wanted to use a dollar instead of a krone, drive a car instead of take the train, or hunker down in a place like Rand in a country that doesn’t even have college campuses—that tension is good and means our cultures are different, that there is still much to be learned. 

It is a privilege to get to do this, to live this world in the way of all five senses. I think just about every day that I’ve received the gift of a months-long trip to Europe, to learn from prostitutes and prison consultants and genocide scholars. I am so thankful. The Lord takes us to places where we’ll learn in His glorious world whether those are the streets of Copenhagen or the floor of a dorm room. It’s all good and real and worth it. Vi ses, København!