Bill Cosby Lifts Baylor, Waco Spirits At 'Pep Rally'

  • News Photo 1536
    Bill Cosby gives the "okay" sign to the more than 20,000 fans that attended the "Spirit Rally."
    Photo by: Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
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    The west-side of Floyd Casey Stadium filled quickly in anticipation of Bill Cosby's performance.
    Photo by Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
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    Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. reads the citation recognizing Bill Cosby's accomplishments as an educator, entertainer and parent.
    Photo by: Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
  • News Photo 1554
    Former Baylor football coach Grant Teaff presented Cosby with a "Friends of Baylor" t-shirt.
    Photo by Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
  • News Photo 1557
    The Noble NoZe Brotherhood declared Cosby an honorary member, dubbing the comedian "J-E-L-L-NoZe."
    Photo by Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
  • News Photo 1556
    Photo by Jason Raddin.
Sept. 5, 2003

by Marianne May, student writer


Watch the KWBU-TV interview with Bill Cosby, taped Sept. 3 in Dallas, on BaylorTV.com.

Bill Cosby's "Spirit Rally" for Baylor University fell like a hard Texas rain on parched land as the beloved comedian brought much-needed laughter to more than 20,000 Baylor students, faculty, staff and Central Texans Sept. 4 at Floyd Casey Stadium.

Two weeks before his Waco visit, Cosby called Baylor President Robert B. Sloan Jr. and offered to come do the rally free of charge in order to "lift the spirits of the Baylor and Central Texas communities" after a tragic and difficult summer.

"Over the years I have come to know some of the outstanding students, faculty and staff at Baylor, and I know it's been a tough few months for them," Cosby said during a teleconference with reporters. "So I want to let the world know what a great place this is."

After the gates opened at 6 p.m., people began filling the stadium's west-side bleachers, anxious to get a good seat for the 8 p.m. show.

And Cosby did not disappoint. To a thunderous ovation, Baylor Student Body President Jeff Leach accompanied Cosby into the stadium, as the entertainer made a grant entrance hanging on to the side of a golf cart. Cosby - dressed in a gold Baylor track and field t-shirt and a Baylor ball cap - also was serenaded by the Golden Wave Band, who Cosby specifically requested to appear at the "pep rally."


TRIPLE HONORS

Sloan began the evening by honoring Cosby, a Temple University graduate, with an honorary doctorate of humane letters, recognizing him as "the icon of American comedy" and one who "turned a difficult childhood into a rich tapestry of comedy."

"His life exemplifies the culmination of hard work, discipline, and education," Sloan said. "If he had followed life's easy path, our world would never have known this gentle, funny man whose humor nudges us to achieve our best, whatever career we seek or the circumstances of our lives. Bill Cosby - comedian, actor, author, musician, educator, philanthropist, beloved husband and father, friend. Baylor University salutes your commitment to the education of students everywhere and for your enrichment of our lives."

As Baylor's Provost David Jeffrey and Regents Chairman Drayton McLane Jr. presided over the doctoral hooding ceremony, Sloan presented Cosby with his own Baylor diploma. Though honored numerous times with honorary degrees, Cosby also has an earned doctorate in education from the University of Massachusetts.

The honorary doctorate wasn't the only recognition Cosby received from Baylor that evening. Former Baylor head football coach Grant Teaff made Cosby an honorary member of the "Friends of Baylor," a grassroots organization of Baylor alumni and supporters. Then, a student in a disguise obvious to the Baylor faithful made his way on to the stage, declaring Cosby an honorary member of the secret, satirical organization "Noble NoZe Brotherhood." Dubbing the comedian "J-E-L-L-NoZe," the NoZe brother presented Cosby with a pair of the group's traditional plastic Groucho Marx glasses.


HELLO, FRIEND

Before he began, Cosby asked the audience to take a moment to remember those who had recently passed away, including Baylor basketball player Patrick Dennehy. As Cosby moved to the side of the stage, the melodic strains of "Ave Maria" filled the stands and a spotlight lit a lone chair covered with a sweatshirt reading, "Hello Friend," a phrase used by Cosby's son, Ennis, who died in 1997.

Then, in his typical comedic style, Cosby regaled his audience for 90 minutes, recalling his own experience moving his eldest daughter to college. Weaving pieces of advice through the comical stories about move-in day, buying a car and graduation, he showed students situations from a parent's point of view, encouraging students to be patient and to love their parents.

"We're trying," he said. "We have the unconditional love you're looking for. Don't wait until it's too late to tell us your troubles. Nobody on the face of this earth loves you the way [your parents] do."

"I'm here because I thought of you guys," he said. "I'm 66 years old, and I have a love for each and every one of you. I also have a love for your parents."

He told students to "put in a little effort" in their studies, while avoiding the artificial highs of drugs and alcohol. "Try to learn something," he said. "It'll be great."

Cosby also encouraged students to stay loyal to Baylor. "I want you to remember this school," he said. "This is your school."

As he did during his Baylor performance a year ago, Cosby ended his show with one of his funniest routines - "The Dentist" - where a patient, face numb with Novocain, tries to carry on a conversation with a dentist.

Before he left the stage, Cosby made a final request.

"Band! Let's hear it for the students!" he shouted, as the Golden Wave Band struck up the Baylor fight song. Cosby then left the stadium the way he came in - waving to an overwhelmingly appreciative audience from a golf cart.


ENCOURAGEMENT A 'GREAT GIFT'

People came to hear Cosby for a variety of reasons. Some students, like Julie Hoover, a junior from Tyler, came to escape homework. "I wanted to come for a break from classes and to get a few laughs."

"I was interested to hear what he had to say," said Jennifer Felske, a senior from Toledo, Ohio. "He took the initiative to come here, and I wanted to know why."

Casey Watts, a junior from Anson and student body external vice president, said Cosby was well-received, particularly because of his commitment to Baylor and its students.

"The best part [of the evening] was that he dedicated the whole rally to students, and he made that clear from the very beginning," she said. "He expressed his genuine concern for education and the importance of family, and that really impressed me."

Watts said that by coming, Cosby lifted spirits and Baylor pride and joined together students, faculty and fans from the community.

Felske said Cosby's comments gave her new perspective on the dynamics of the parent-child relationship.

"Something that stuck out in my mind was that he tried to speak to both parents and students at the same time," Felske said. "It gave me a respect for what our parents had to give up for us to make it this far."

The students were not the only ones encouraged by what Cosby had to say.

"I think anytime you can get an outside perspective and have someone, particularly someone like Bill Cosby, pat you on the back and try to lift you up, it makes you feel good," said Maxey Parrish, a full-time lecturer at Baylor. "Anytime somebody can say, 'Hey, I care!' it's meaningful. [Encouragement] is one of the greatest gifts you can give people."

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