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What Made Maddy Run by ESPN sports reporter Kate Fagan tells the story of University of Pennsylvania track star Madison Holleran and her struggles with being away from home for the first time, adjusting to college, and balancing sports, schoolwork, and a social life. In her second semester of freshman year, Maddy took her own life after battling depression that stemmed from toxic perfectionism.

Fagan’s article “Split Image” was first written as a profile on Madison and her story. Soon after it was published, hundreds of emails from students poured in, each one asking more questions about Madison and her story. Fagan approached the Holleran family to learn more about the pressures that Maddy had faced as a student athlete in order to write a full length book. However, the Hollerans wanted the book to avoid sensationalizing Maddy’s story while covering a spectrum of stories and hardships faced by students today as they adjust to college life. Furthermore, Fagan herself struggled with anxiety as a basketball player at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and she shares her own experiences with communicating her anxieties to her coaches. During An Evening With Kate Fagan, we learned more about Fagan’s process of writing What Made Maddy Run and how Fagan was able to get inside Maddy’s mind. Maddy had great support from her friends, family, and coaches. However, she was seriously unhappy once she came to school, and she never expressed the extent of her true feelings to her loved ones. Instead, she fell deeper in a hole and struggled to transition into college life.

“Penn face” is a term coined by students at UPenn that describes how students put on a façade of perfection. Students showcase a picture-perfect version of their lives – balancing academics with extracurriculars and still having time for a ridiculously active social life – when in reality, they’re struggling with these issues just as much as the next person. Sound familiar? This phenomenon is on every single college campus, and we can partially blame social media for that.

Maddy was aware that she looked a lot happier on her Instagram than she actually felt. But that’s what social media does – if you scroll through your timeline right now, every picture is going to showcase people’s accomplishments, adventures, and beach pictures (posted every time there’s a snow day, but it’s okay, I’m not jealous). Are any of these pictures an accurate representation of people’s lives? Hell no. We compare ourselves to the filtered versions of our peers’ lives, and this contributes to an overemphasis on perfection that leads to insecurities.

One thing I’ve consistently struggled with since middle school is comparing myself to others. Grades, physical appearance, social media presence – we all get lost down the rabbit hole of “how can I be them?”. But something I’ve learned is that we’re all leading different lives. Fagan says that we need to be mindful of when we’re taking part in toxic behavior and remind ourselves that no one is leading a perfect life.

Here at Vanderbilt, students are familiar with the pursuit of perfection. When we were younger, we celebrated perfectionism because it was a sign that we were constantly chasing success. However, during the many twists and turns of growing up, maturing, and just trying to figure ourselves out, we got stuck in our own heads. We face life and every single unknown in college by ourselves. We forget that struggling is not a sign of weakness, but an opportunity to learn and prevail. Vanderbilt may be noted as the nation’s happiest campus, but that doesn’t mean we need to hide our struggles! I urge you all to reach out to friends, family, and campus resources. You are not alone.

“If one only wished to be happy, this could be easily accomplished; but we wish to be happier than other people, and this is always difficult, for we believe others to be happier than they are.” —Montesquieu


Psychological and Counseling Center (PCC)

(615) 322-2571                    

The Center for Student Wellbeing

(615) 322-0480

Vanderbilt Behavioral Health (Vanderbilt Psychiatric Hospital)

(615) 327-7000

Vanderbilt Project Safe

615-322- SAFE (7233)

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline



Anuja Mehta

Vanderbilt '21

Majors: Neuroscience and Computer Science "We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new path"
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