In early November, the Baylor family marked the 99th anniversary of the University's first Homecoming as thousands of graduates and their families converged on campus to join over 14,000 current students in celebrating Baylor's past, present and future. The Baylor Chamber, along with the Baylor Alumni Association and dozens of other student organizations, faculty and staff, put on an impressive show designed to allow returning Bears opportunities to look back, reconnect and celebrate what it means to be a part of the Baylor family.
As always, this year's festivities featured a variety of venues for former students to renew friendships and to recall favorite professors or campus corners. Receptions and other get-togethers filled the weekend as departments and organizations across campus welcomed back alumni who gathered to share stories of their time at Baylor and catch up on all that has happened since graduation.
The central class gatherings this year were the class of 1982's 25th reunion and the class of 1957's 50th reunion, coordinated by the Baylor Alumni Association. Each class held a dinner on Friday night, while other classes--those with graduation years ending in 2 or 7--held reunion gatherings at Floyd Casey Stadium prior to the football game on Saturday.
For new Bears, Homecoming traditions began with Wednesday night's Freshman Mass Meeting, where Baylor's stories, spirit and tradition are symbolically passed down to the freshman class.
The focus of Freshman Mass Meeting has long been a recognition of the Immortal 10, the young men killed in a bus/train collision in 1927 as they travelled through Round Rock, Texas. Friday of Homecoming, visitors to campus were able to attend the dedication of the first permanent reminder of those who were lost 80 years ago. The long-awaited Immortal 10 Memorial was installed in July and was one of two dedications held during Homecoming.
While such memorials remind Bears of Baylor's past, the dedication of Brooks Village begins a new chapter in Samuel Palmer Brooks' legacy. The new facility, which welcomed its first residents in August, demonstrates the University's commitment to creating an engaging campus community that enhances students' living and learning experience.
Between the two dedications, the Baylor Alumni Association hosted its annual meeting, which featured Baylor President John M. Lilley presiding over the presentation of the W.R. White Meritorious Service Awards.
Other Homecoming events highlighted the spirit and talent of current students. The first of four Pigskin Revue performances kicked off the weekend on Thursday night, offering sold-out audiences a sampling of the best of last spring's All University Sing acts. Others who wished they could join in the performances found a place Friday night at Singspiration, where an alumni choir and concert artists led those gathered in a worship service.
Alumni and students alike were elated to have the Bonfire back in the heart of campus this year on Fountain Mall. Hundreds of students, faculty and alumni and their families gathered for the pep rally, led by Baylor Song and Yell Leaders and the Golden Wave Marching Band and featuring speeches by Lilley and head football coach Guy Morriss.
Adjacent to Fountain Mall, inflatable games, a Ferris wheel and other rides created a carnival-like event for the Baylor and Waco community.
Saturday morning, the Baylor Homecoming Parade drew thousands of green- and gold-clad onlookers. This year's Homecoming parade featured the colorful floats and decorated vehicles that have come to be expected during the parade¡--believed to be the largest in the nation--plus one marriage proposal. (She said yes.)
Of course, the anchor event of Homecoming remains Saturday's football game; a crowd of over 39,000, the year's second-largest total, cheered the Bears even as they fell to Texas Tech, 38-7. After the game, thousands of visitors flooded Waco's restaurants before heading home.
Sunday morning, alumni gathered for worship in Truett Seminary's Powell Chapel, with Dr. Dan Bagby, BA '62, MS '64, and Dr. Joyce Jones leading in worship.
Every aspect of Homecoming is designed to allow Baylor alumni to reconnect with the University and rekindle affection for their alma mater and the friendships that were formed as part of the university experience.
Connecting more often in more places
However, while Homecoming represents the centerpiece of celebration for the Baylor community, the University recognizes that not all alumni can regularly return to campus for a dose of Baylor cheer.
To that end, the Baylor Network and the Baylor Alumni Association sponsor a number of events at venues near and far that bring Bears together for worship, service, fellowship and play.
As part of the larger Baylor Network, business networks for Baylor grads have been set up in cities from Denver to New York City. Closer to home, cities such as Dallas, Houston and Austin offer "Mama Bears" groups that bring together mothers of preschool and school-age "cubs" for social outings and seminars on parenting. Young Grads sessions help Baylor's newest alums get oriented in a number of cities across Texas.
The Network also coordinates a handful of events in multiple cities so that alums can participate in activities that mirror on-campus service and recreation programs like Steppin' Out and Diadeloso. Steppin' Out Networks have formed in six cities, while alumni participated in Diadeloso events in cities as far away as Shanghai and Tokyo.
Communication is key
Keeping alumni connected and engaged in the life of the University doesn't depend on events alone. Baylor also employs a number of communication tools to keep alumni informed and excited about its programs, people and progress.
Baylor Magazine was launched in 2002 and operates under the mandate to engage alumni and friends in the advancement of the University. The magazine quarterly communicates the aspirations, accomplishments and needs of the University to over 100,000 households, including alumni, parents of current students and other Baylor friends.
The recently launched Baylor Proud e-mail newsletter and corresponding blog
(www.baylor.edu/baylorproud) provide readers with regularly updated Baylor headlines and highlights that share the academic and athletic successes of students, faculty and alumni.
The Baylor Alumni Association (BAA) also works diligently to fulfill its historic role to keep graduates and members in touch with the University through its long-time publication, the Baylor Line, and e-mail newsletters. The Line is mailed quarterly to Association members and provides an independent perspective on current events at Baylor while keeping members in touch through class notes and alumni features and profiles.
Though most known for the Line and its work during Homecoming, the BAA also coordinates several other programs. Offerings include the Baylor Legacy Program, designed to keep the Baylor name in front of children of alumni; the Alumni by Choice program, which counts newly elected Baptist General Convention of Texas President Joy Fenner among its numbers; and the Heritage Club, for those who attended Baylor 50 or more years ago. Throughout the year, the BAA also recognizes significant alumni achievement with a number of accolades such as the Distinguished Alumni Award, the Outstanding Young Alumni Award and the Price Daniel Distinguished Public Service Award.
Strengthening our efforts
Every aspect of Baylor's relations with alumni is being evaluated as part of ongoing campus-wide efforts to make sure the University is serving its students, faculty, staff and alumni to the best of its abilities. To that end, Baylor conducted a national survey this past summer to study alumni perceptions of Baylor and to find out how the University can better serve its constituencies.
The survey, conducted by an outside research firm, found that nearly 80 percent of alumni have a special bond or connection with the University, and of those, half say their affinity actually has grown since graduation. Those numbers suggest the University's efforts to keep alumni engaged and informed are paying off. But there is always room for improvement.
No doubt Baylor Chamber, the BAA and other groups already are hard at work evaluating Homecoming 2007 and planning ways to make next year--the 100th anniversary of Baylor Homecoming--even better.