February 28, 2008
By Rachel Moore
When Baylor Magazine asked Rachel Moore, MA '69, to write for us on "What makes Baylor special?", we didn't expect to get a 2,500-word essay--but perhaps we should have. Moore, a mother of two Baylor graduates and self-proclaimed "grandmother of six Baylor-Bears-to-be," has taught in Baylor's English department since 1966 and was honored as a Master Teacher in 2004.
Each individual's experience here will provide different answers, yet for many of us, some answers will surely be the same. Visitors to our present campus often comment on the beauty of our buildings and grounds. When my husband Andy and I came to Baylor in 1962, we were awed by the majesty of the Armstrong Browning Library and Pat Neff Hall, by a bear pit with real bears and a student union building with a lovely drawing room, but we had no idea of the physical growth of the campus we would see in 40 years. Wise leadership in administration and support by Baylorites the world over continue to provide both fine facilities to enhance learning experiences and exceptional students to study here. Many alumni continue to send their children and grandchildren to school here--that good old Baylor Line is an apt metaphor! Baylor is indeed an especially beautiful place.
For any university to thrive, a capable faculty is undoubtedly one of the first requirements. We have seen great growth here also--from some 25 teaching in the Department of English when we came to 75 teaching today. Our Baylor faculty members number nearly 900 now, many of whom are leaders in their various fields. In contrast to many other universities, a majority of classes remain small, allowing professors to know students personally and to encourage mentoring and friendship. Baylor is special because of the people here.
Baylor will be forever special to my family because it has become Home. Transplanted Mississippians, (now we call ourselves Texsippians), we have rejoiced in seeing our two children graduate from Baylor, profiting from a first-rate education in a caring atmosphere. We came to Baylor grateful to be warmly received and excited about opportunities, but we could not have dreamed of a more rewarding career among bright young people and older friends, many of whom we would grow to love over years of close association. When I was confined in traction for a back injury, Dr. Herbert Reynolds sent the Baylor plane to my hometown, McComb, Miss., to bring me home to Waco, just one example of the concern and kindness Baylor people regularly extend to one another. Nor could Andy and I have anticipated the joy of following Baylor graduates as they became outstanding citizens in dozens of careers literally all over the world. In medicine and missions, in education and politics, in law and entertainment, and in business and the arts, Baylor graduates excel in places of responsibility. A cherished gift is ours every year at Christmas when we receive from many pictures of their children and reports of their lives of useful service and yes, hard work. Baylor is special because bonds of friendship grow strong and sturdy here.
Baylor is also special because of the number and quality of programs available for faculty, staff, and student participation. For 25 years Andy and I served as faculty advisors to Theta Kappa, our Chi Omega chapter, loving our time with those young women. Another privilege came in my family's "adopting" international students through the women's organization, Baylor Round Table, adding immeasurably to our knowledge of other customs and the pleasure of these students' company in our home for birthdays and holidays.
Participation by faculty is acknowledged and encouraged, as it is in our active worship and service in a church family. This community of faith at Baylor is a major strength. For me, teaching literature, the record of human experience, provides an important opportunity in the classroom to examine human values and priorities; comparing the contributions, the choices and the consequences of major writers, sharing my own faith with young people who are shaping their own spiritual guidelines for life--this is a rewarding endeavor. And the special bond with my friends in First Baptist Church has also been a source of joy and support over the years.
Of special significance at Baylor, too, are the study abroad opportunities afforded our students through 70 current programs in 30 other countries, some during summers and some semester-long. For 30 years, my husband and I traveled with other faculty and students throughout Europe and the British Isles, teaching in hotel lobbies and on trains and buses before we had established program locations in the University of London and Westminster School. We have seen the reality of Dr. A. J. Armstrong's often quoted belief: "Travel completes an education."
And sports? Baylor pride is easily visible at any event in our wide array of games and matches. Devotees of Baylor expect excitement--even begin to think in green and gold! I became aware of this when my daughter Melanie was three. We were coming home past some fields where farmers were baling hay. I told her to watch: she had not seen a hay baler before, and I explained that the man on the tractor would soon eject a package of hay, food for the cows in winter. A hay baler! But when she saw that bale of hay drop behind the tractor, she said with some disappointment, " Mommy, it didn't say a thing about Baylor! (Hey, Baylor?) Only the tractor is green and gold."
The memories of glory days in football with Grant Teaff are as dear as the excitement we share when our freshmen in the Line stream in a golden rush into Floyd Casey stadium every Fall, carrying the flag and our fond hopes. Who will ever forget the thrill of our Bears' trip to the College World Series? (I knew Steve Smith would be a success when I first knew him in an English class, but how glad we are he came back to Baylor!) How exciting for our Lady Bears to win a national championship in basketball, for our Bears to shine repeatedly in the national limelight in baseball, softball, volleyball, tennis, track. And to know we repeatedly lead the Big 12 Conference with the highest graduation rates proves that we emphasize academic as well as athletic excellence. Sic 'em, Bears!
Of course, other universities have great programs and faculties, great facilities and buildings. But there is a distinctive spirit in the Baylor family that makes it unique, as individual as the people who make up this family. I would characterize it as a spirit of good will and respect for each other and for the greater good of our university. We may disagree on issues, but we can remain civil. Most practice tolerance, compassion, and forgiveness as well as "preach" it. And this spirit has made it a pleasant place to work and rear a family.
When my son Scott was four, he returned from an errand with his Dad and told me someone he had seen in the drug store had said to tell me hello. When I asked who, he answered, "I don't know, but it was a Baylor face!!" When I reflect on these years at Baylor, I see so many faces, remember fondly so many names from the classroom and across the campus: what a debt of gratitude I feel for having known these special people and for what they have taught me. What an amazing DVD this memory log would be!
These special images from memories of years of teaching at Baylor remain vivid: Paul, playing his guitar on the deck of the Howell home while our British literature class watched the setting sun at Lake Waco "weave her bright chain across the deep"--Paul had set Byron's lyrics to music! Indelible is the memory of two of our football players happily carrying their classmate Helen and her wheelchair to our classroom on the second floor when the elevator was out; our sharing Wordsworth's "Lines" on the site in Wales at Tintern Abbey; Christion's surprise at the end of class in receiving roses--and a poem--from an admirer on her birthday; our excitement when Yagi and Wei-Wei's son was born at Hillcrest; the numerous tickets on my windshield from the NoZe Brothers for such misdemeanors as having the "wrong color car!"
I am grateful too for students who baby-sat, planted grass and roses with us at our new home; the countless hours of travel and tutoring; the laughter and tears shared when the poets and authors reached students across the centuries with their words, helping these young people grow in awareness and in learning to cope: one young woman's epiphany in coming to understand and to forgive her father for suicide, another's victory in overcoming bitterness after great hurt, in sharing grief in loss of family members, and the countless celebrations when students have received the scholarship, made Phi Beta Kappa, been accepted to the law and medical schools of their choice! And where are these people today? Teaching in classrooms across the country; serving in courtrooms, dental offices, and hospitals from South Carolina to Nigeria; on television from New York to Hawaii, working as mothers and fathers to present and future Baylor Bears--all special people, dear hearts, forever connected to this special place.
In his beloved poem, "The Death of the Hired Man," Robert Frost gives two definitions of home through the two characters, Warren and Mary. Warren thinks home "is the place where, when you go there, they have to take you in." His definition does not apply to Baylor today, where steady growth attests to both Baylor's popularity and increasingly higher standards for admission. But Mary says home is something you don't have to deserve. She knows it is a place of security, provided in love and generosity. For me, Baylor is that special place: like grace, it isn't something I have to deserve, but I'm really glad it has become my home.