Fifth-year senior Anthony “Panda” Vannarath is well known by Belmont faculty and students for bringing his positivity to any event, but he didn’t always have the reputation he holds today.
As a child, Vannarath considered himself to be introverted, and it took a move to Belmont to break him out of his shell.
Growing up in the Nashville area, Vannarath fell in love with Belmont in his freshman year of high school after his sister enrolled at the university. On the weekends, he and his parents visited his sister, so he quickly became familiar with the students and energy of Belmont.
After multiple visits, Vannarath knew Belmont was the place for him.
“I never really had a dream college. But with Belmont, it was like I was getting familiar with it, and that became the dream college in my mind,” Vannarath said.
When he arrived on campus, Vannarath found comfort in continuing to be the same introverted kid he was in high school.
But once his senior year began, Vannarath had a realization that made him the energetic and sociable “Panda” most Belmont students know him as today.
“My freshman and sophomore years, I was really to myself. It wasn’t until my junior year where I was like ‘What am I doing? College is almost over, and I haven’t done much,’” he said.
Ever since his epiphany, Vannarath embraced the social aspects of college.
Whether it be working at his job at Belmont’s Fitness and Recreation, being featured on Belmont’s Homecoming court or honing his leadership skills as a member of the Bruin Office of Leadership Development, he loves being around people and making them feel at home.
He got involved with the FitRec to make sure he maintained the positive atmosphere that makes him excited to come to work. Freshman Emma Hall, who works alongside Vannarath at the FitRec, immediately recognized his outgoing personality from just her second shift.
“He just came up and introduced himself to me and just started chatting with me, like we had been friends forever,” Hall said. “He was just super welcoming and such a friendly face.”
Senior Raiyann Lodhi, a member of BOLD with Vannarath, believes he is accomplishing his goal of connecting with the Belmont community.
“He is always taking care of everyone else. Instead of himself, he puts everyone above him. He cares for everyone and makes sure everyone is included.” Lodhi said. “He always goes the extra mile.”
Vannarath cites BOLD’s leader, Dr. AdriAnne Sternberg, as one of his biggest influences on campus. BOLD gave him the opportunity to become the leader he desired to be. All he had to do was sign up and bring his trademarked positivity.
“If you want to be a leader, if you want to grow yourself and if you want to become bigger than what you are, it’s right there,” Vannarath said.
BOLD also helped him discover his love of being a DJ, which helped him break out of his shell on campus. What started with Dr. Sternberg needing someone to play music for BOLD meetings led to Vannarath purchasing his own soundboard and becoming “DJ Panda.”
Being DJ Panda is one of the many moments Vannarath will remember fondly when he graduates in December.
He’ll remember how everyone affectionately called him “Panda,” a nickname someone randomly gave him at a summer camp in eighth grade.
He’ll remember all the moments he made with his friends whether it be playing basketball or eating at his favorite restaurants.
He’ll remember all the different clubs he participated in at Belmont and how they made him feel at home.
Most importantly, he’ll remember how being at Belmont helped the introverted Anthony Vannarath become the fun, cheerful and outgoing “Panda.”
“I honestly would say to just dive into involvement, even if it’s scary. It’s easier said than done, but it’s a risk I took because I felt that my years in college were going to waste,” Vannarath said.
PHOTO: Anthony Vannarath in the FitRec gym Lillian Davidson/Belmont Vision
This article was written by Ty Wellemeyer.