Taryn Burgess ′15

Hometown: Florence, Alabama
Major: Math and Economics

Extracurricular activities: Rhodes College Honor Council President; Memphis Grizzlies Grizz Girls Dance Team Member; Kappa Delta’s 2014 “All Sing” Creativity Chairman; Hot Foot Honeys dance company member; Omicron Delta Kappa; Order of Omega; Rho Lambda; Omicron Delta Epsilon; Mercer Capital 2014 Summer Intern; 2014 City of Memphis Urban Fellows Intern; former member Rhodes Varsity Track and Field Team

Tell the story of how you got to Rhodes College.

I visited Rhodes on a rainy day in the 10th grade with my high school AP History class. Immediately, I decided I did not want to attend Rhodes simply because I thought it looked dreary in the rain. My senior year I received phone calls from one of the track coaches to ask if I was interested in running at Rhodes, and I politely turned them down time after time. January of my senior year, I received notice that the application deadline for Rhodes had been extended due to an ice storm. The timing was perfect because I had recently realized that the colleges I was seriously considering were not a perfect fit. I took this as a sign that I should give Rhodes a second chance. Hastily, I scheduled for an overnight visit with the track team, an interview with an admissions counselor, a meeting with an economics professor, and visits to a few classes. In less than 24 hours I fell in love with Rhodes and knew that I belonged in the Rhodes community.

How have you changed since beginning your studies at Rhodes?

Rhodes has helped me become more comfortable with who I am. Since everyone at Rhodes is a little nerdy, I am not embarrassed, like I once was, to be smart or enthusiastic about things I learn in my math and economics classes. Being a member of Honor Council has made me more confident in voicing my opinion. While I always try to avoid conflict, participating in Honor Council deliberations forced me to present my view, even when it differed from someone else’s. I have learned to embrace the things that people might have once teased me about, like being extremely organized. I am involved in a number of activities, and it is nice to be at Rhodes where no one looks startled or doubtful when I share my long list of goals with them. I have found wonderful friends who believe in me and their confidence in me has developed into self-confidence.

I also think that had I not been a member of the track team during my first two years at Rhodes, I might not have had the strength or the drive to find my way back to dancing. Daily track practices and weight training gave me the strength and stamina that allowed me to successfully master styles of dance that I previously found quite challenging. My time running for Rhodes helped me to reignite my interest in dance and, ultimately, I left the team to pursue dancing again. I was good at track and loved my teammates and the coaching staff, but I had to follow my passion. In fact, I believe the biggest thing that has changed about me is that I have found the courage to follow my passions.

How has your love of dance integrated you into Memphis?

Searching for dance classes led me to explore many different areas in Memphis. I have taken ballet at New Ballet Ensemble in Cooper Young, tap at the JCC in Germantown, hip-hop at Sub Roy Studios in Bartlett, and even a music theater class in Midtown. I have thoroughly enjoyed engaging in the Memphis community and meeting new people who share my love of dance and the arts. As a member of Memphis’ only professional tap dance company, the Hot Foot Honeys, I had the opportunity to perform at the historic Evergreen Theatre, and, more importantly, acquaint myself with many talented people within Memphis’ dance community.  Using those connections, I wrote a brief paper about the economic impact of the arts in Memphis for an Urban Studies class. I am currently in the process of doing research to see if I can expand this idea into a math/economics honors thesis.

I am still in a bit of shock about being chosen as a member of the 2014-15 Grizz Girls Dance Team. I attended my first Memphis Grizzlies basketball game during the playoffs following my freshman year. At Grizzlies games, my friends would comment on the last basket and I would talk about the Grizz Girls’ last dance routine. After attending open classes with the Grizz Girls, I quickly realized that while I had a lot of work to do if I decided to audition, the work involved was work I truly loved. I can’t begin to describe how excited I am about next year and having the opportunity to dance with the Grizz Girls at FedExForum in front of more than 18,000 Memphis Grizzlies basketball fans!

Tell us about why you ran for president of the Honor Council.

I ran because I believe strongly in the role of the Honor Council in helping maintain both the Rhodes community and its standards of excellence. Being president of the Honor Council is a large commitment, but I think I have personal characteristics that make me a good fit for the job. Unlike being on the Honor Council, the president is a neutral, nonvoting member. As president, my main role is to act as a liaison between students, faculty, and the council members. During deliberations it is important that Honor Council members feel comfortable voicing their opinions because the benefit of having a large council is having diversity of opinion. I have been working to develop skills that allow me to moderate discussions so everyone feels comfortable sharing their point of view. It is important to me that people understand that the Honor Council is not designed to judge or punish students, but instead to benefit the Rhodes community by implementing a mutually agreed upon standard of conduct. Being a member of the Honor Council has not always been an easy job, but I know that the decisions we make help maintain the future value of a degree from Rhodes College.

What role has the Honor Code played in your experience at Rhodes?

The Rhodes Honor Code is very straightforward. "As a member of the Rhodes community, I pledge I will not lie, cheat, or steal, and that I will report any such violation that I may witness." Since neither the private middle school nor the public high school I attended had an honor code, the trust that Rhodes’ professors place in their students and the trust students have in their peers at first amazed me. Initially, I was hesitant to even briefly leave my books in the library or my purse at the lunch table, because these were acts I would have previously considered as irresponsible. It may sound strange, but being in an environment where trust is a community value took some getting used to. People might assume that being on the Honor Council for the past three years and participating in hearings where my fellow students are accused of violating the Honor Code might give me a reason to doubt the effectiveness of a system based on trust. Being a member of the Honor Council, however, gives me even more confidence in our system. Rhodes students have diverse backgrounds but the Honor System has the intention of creating “the fullest possible expression of individual life in harmony with community life.”

Compiled by Caroline Ponseti ′15