Nov. 21, 2012
Senior women's basketball player Tiffany Clarke was recently nominated as a finalist for the Senior CLASS award, an annual, nationwide award celebrating student athletes who display achievement in four areas: community, classroom, character and competition.
Really, the only person surprised by her nomination was Clarke herself.
"It's really exciting for me," Clarke said. "I didn't even know about it until my roommate called me and said congratulations, and I said `for what?' So I've been learning more about it since then and it's a really cool thing."
The acronym CLASS stands for Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School. Including Clarke, 30 women's basketball players have been selected as nominees for this year's award, which will be narrowed to 10 finalists at the midpoint of the season. The winner will then be selected through nationwide public voting.
Most in the SEC and Vanderbilt community are familiar with Tiffany Clarke on the court. She's been a consistent force for the Commodores in the past three years, averaging 8.7 points and 5.95 rebounds per game on her career. Last season, she was named Second Team All-SEC after leading the team in field-goal percentage (56.6%) and averaging 11.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.
This season looks to be no different. Through four games, Clarke leads the team in scoring (17.3) and rebounding (7.8).
Clarke is a well-known hard worker, though, and sees areas for improvement.
"Last year, losing to Duke in the [NCAA] Tournament was a humbling experience. It definitely leaves a bittersweet taste in your mouth," she said. "I know that's not where I want to be this year, especially being a senior. That feeling is making me go harder. I'm working on my defensive intensity and making sure I can stop my opponents."
Competition, however, is only one of the four areas considered for the CLASS award. Not many are quite as familiar with Clarke's dedication and passion to other areas of her life beyond basketball.
"Coming out of high school, my focus had always been sports, and I regretted not being involved in more things," Clarke said. "One of my goals for college was to get involved in other things besides just basketball. Everything I do now wasn't necessarily planned coming in, but it worked out that way."
Everything she does now is a pretty extensive list.
Clarke, originally from Duluth, Ga., is a human and organizational development major. She's the Community Service Chair for Vanderbilt's Student-Athlete Advisory Council, and in her free time enjoys tutoring kindergarteners at Eakin Elementary in Nashville.
This past summer was also a busy one for Clarke. She studied abroad in Paris, taking a class in French black culture and how it compares to America, and partook in what she describes as "extreme tourism."
In the summer of 2011, Clarke participated in the Olympic F.L.A.M.E. program, which is coordinated by the U.S. Olympic Committee to inspire minority college students to consider careers in international sport and also cultivate their leadership skills in all aspects of life.
"F.L.A.M.E. stands for Finding Leaders Among Minorities Everywhere. It's a 4-day leadership academy where we learned different leadership skills and participated in seminars and workshops put on by the USOC," Clarke said. "It was a great experience. We got to stay in the Olympic Training Center in Colorado and meet a bunch of athletes, which was pretty cool."
With everything going on in her life, especially while in season, it's a wonder Clarke is able to keep a 3.107 GPA. She isn't fazed by it, though.
"My schedule actually isn't too crazy right now! I've got a nice little schedule," she jokes. "Since freshman year, I've learned to balance everything and I've become very good at time management. Right now, classes are going well and it's good."
Right now, you will find Tiffany Clarke taking it day by day, staying grounded and continuing to live out the four C's of the CLASS award in her own ways. It's clear that she's focused on her team and continuing to get the season started out on the right foot. For her, graduation in May seems a long way off.
"I don't know what I want to do after graduating. I don't know if I want to keep playing, if I want to go to grad school, or if I want to get a job. It really depends on how my body feels and what opportunities present themselves. I'm not closing any doors!"