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Candice Storey Lee uses her platform to inspire

As Candice Storey Lee, Ed.D., sat on stage in front of Harpeth Hall’s student body, she reflected on the school’s mission and the opportunity for the students to be at a school that uplifts and supports women’s voices. With that mission as the foundation, she said, students were primed to understand that they can do anything.

For Dr. Lee, becoming Vanderbilt's first female athletics director and the first Black woman to lead an SEC athletics program was not something she ever thought she would be able to do. “I laughed the first time I was told I could be an athletic director one day,” Dr. Lee said. “It felt so daunting to me. There just aren’t a lot of women doing it.” With the 50th anniversary of Title IX approaching, Dr. Lee recognized that while a lot of progress has been made, there is still work to do. At Harpeth Hall, she sees potential.

In her journey to becoming an athletic director, Dr. Lee was guided by the lessons she learned as an athlete. As an athlete, you have to trust in your preparation and trust that you have practiced and worked hard, be graceful in defeat, not be boastful when there is a win, and show up every day. One of the best lessons she learned was that it is possible to be confident and humble. Being confident and humble means you have trust you have in yourself, but also the humility to know that you do not achieve anything alone. You have a team, peers, mentors, and those who blazed the trails that allowed you to be where you are.

Importantly, though, Dr. Lee learned early in her athletic career that to be a good leader, you do not have to be the best, most talented player, but rather by being your best authentic self, respectful to others, and a good teammate. By being authentic to who you are, you are not only honoring your true self, but also accepting others as the authentic people that they are. This value is a showing of respect and allows you to appreciate the risks and bravery of yourself and others.

“One of the most powerful things about sports is that there is always another game,” Dr. Lee said. In the face of loss or defeat, “you have to move on to the next play. If you get beat on defense and you’re lamenting, you’re upset, you’ve got poor body language and a bad attitude, the game will pass you by. It keeps going. It doesn’t wait on you. That’s how life is. We are going to make mistakes. Sometimes we are not going to be our best self, but the key is how you respond to that.”

Through channeling principles of an athlete, Dr. Lee gained a platform that will help the women to come. She is determined to not let the opportunity go to waste because, as she sees it, “there are amazing women out there who deserve opportunities, but don’t have a champion.” 

This is something Dr. Lee is working towards in her role as an athletic director of a SEC university, overseeing all sports ranging from the high-profile football teams to lower profile sports. “Everyone deserves to be celebrated when they are great at their craft and it is important to celebrate with equality,” Dr. Lee said. She encouraged students to hold each other accountable, call out inequity, to show others what is possible. and to be the champions for the people who cannot be champions for themselves. 

Dr. Lee also left the audience with an important challenge – to show themselves the compassion that they show other people. 

“Nobody wants to be judged on their worst day,” she said. “This applies to yourself and others. If you make a mistake, if you lose, you have to know you are bigger and better than your worst moments. …We are not striving for perfection because there is no such thing. We are striving for great effort. If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t going hard enough, if you are making too many mistakes, you aren’t being thoughtful. If you make a mistake out of effort, it is okay.”