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Senior Day Speaker & Nichols-Chancellor Award Recipient


NC MedalThe Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal is awarded by Vanderbilt University to those persons who define the 21st century and exemplify the best qualities of the human spirit.

In 2006, Vanderbilt Law School graduate Edward Nichols and his wife, Janice, in honor of Edward Carmack and Lucile Hamby Nichols, created and endowed The Nichols-Chancellor’s Medal. The medal is one of the university’s highest honors.  

The  Nichols Humanitarian Fund  is a companion scholarship fund to the Nichols-Chancellor's Medal.

The individual on whom this prestigious award is bestowed is asked to speak on Senior Day, which is held the day before Vanderbilt’s annual Commencement ceremony.  This year, the Nichols-Chancellor's Medal is awarded to Ken Burns. A perennial figure on PBS, he is the creator, director and producer of numerous award-winning documentaries, including Jazz, The Civil WarBaseballThe National Parks: America’s Best Idea and The Tenth Inning

"Heroes and Leadership"

LOCATION – Memorial Gym
TIME – 11 a.m. – Noon (Doors open at 9:30 a.m.)

Ken Burns

Ken Burns has been making documentary films for almost forty years.  Since the Academy Award nominated Brooklyn Bridge in 1981, Ken has gone on to direct and produce some of the most acclaimed historical documentaries ever made, including The Civil War; Baseball; Jazz; The Statue of Liberty; Huey Long; Lewis & Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery; Frank Lloyd Wright; Mark Twain; Unforgivable Blackness:  The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson; The War; The National Parks:  America’s Best Idea; The Roosevelts:  An Intimate History; Jackie Robinson; and, most recently, Defying the Nazis:  The Sharps’ War.

A December 2002 poll conducted by Real Screen Magazine listed The Civil War as second only to Robert Flaherty’s Nanook of the North as the “most influential documentary of all time,” and named Ken Burns and Robert Flaherty as the “most influential documentary makers” of all time. In March, 2009, David Zurawik of The Baltimore Sun said, “… Burns is not only the greatest documentarian of the day, but also the most influential filmmaker period. That includes feature filmmakers like George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.  I say that because Burns not only turned millions of persons onto history with his films, he showed us a new way of looking at our collective past and ourselves.” The late historian Stephen Ambrose said of his films, "More Americans get their history from Ken Burns than any other source."

Future projects include films on the Vietnam War, the history of country music, Ernest Hemingway, and the history of stand-up comedy.

 Ken’s films have been honored with dozens of major awards, including fifteen Emmy Awards, two Grammy Awards and two Oscar nominations; and in September of 2008, at the News & Documentary Emmy Awards, Ken was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences with a Lifetime Achievement Award.



  Watch live streaming video of Senior Day beginning at 10 a.m. Central Time at

About Memorial Gym

  • The main gym where Senior Day will be held is NOT air conditioned. Wear comfortable clothes in the event of unusually warm weather.
  • Holding seats is not permitted inside Memorial Gym as seating is limited.
  • Senior Day will be streamed live on the Vanderbilt homepage and select clips will be available for a limited period following the event. Visit our ceremony archive page afterward to view videos and photos from this year's events.
  • Attendees with special needs:
    • Those with special needs and requiring the use of a wheelchair will have priority seating on the East side of the gym. Guests with wheelchairs must enter gym at the pickup location (below). The East side entrance is not handicapped-accessible and there is no access to the gym floor.
    • Wheelchair pickup will be located on the corner of Jess Neely Drive and 25th Ave. South (same corner as the baseball field and across from 25th Ave. Garage).
    • More information available here.

View Past Nichols-Chancellor's Medalists & Senior Day Speakers »

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Future Commencement Dates

 2018  -  May 9, 10, 11
 2019  -  May 8, 9, 10
 2020 -  May 6, 7, 8

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