Born a preacher's son in Georgia, Samuel Palmer Brooks' family moved to Texas when he was 5 years old. Despite financial hardships, the future Baylor president's powerful intellect, love of reading and voracious desire to learn drove him to earn the money needed to enroll at Baylor, where he roomed with another future Baylor president, Pat Neff.
After earning a bachelor's degree from Baylor, Brooks was working on a master's degree at Yale when he was elected Baylor's seventh president in April 1902. He went on to serve the longest term of any Baylor president--29 years.
In 1930, Brooks was stricken with cancer at age 67. After a trip to Europe with his wife, Brooks returned to Baylor and took on an exhausting tour of the state to raise funds that erased Baylor's debt. But he spent much of his time in the hospital, and by May 1931 it was evident that the end was near.
Touched when he learned that members of the Class of 1931 hoped he could sign their diplomas, Brooks made a valiant effort to do so.
From his sickbed, Brooks left one more legacy to Baylor--his Immortal Message to the Class of 1931. Dictated to members of his family, the message was both a farewell and a ringing challenge to future generations.
Addressed to "seniors of all years," Brooks's message began by acknowledging that he stood on the border of mortal and eternal life. He urged students "not to regard lightly nor to ridicule the sacred things, those worthwhile things…for they alone will sustain you in the end."
Brooks challenged Baylor students to face the future not with timidity or with fear, but "boldly, courageously, joyfully." He ended with words that have been repeated many times over the decades:
"Because of what Baylor has meant to you in the past, because of what she will mean to you in the future, oh, my students, have a care for her," Brooks said. "Build upon the foundations here the great school of which I have dreamed, so that she may touch and mold the lives of future generations and help to fit them for life here and hereafter…To you seniors of the past, the present and the future I entrust the care of Baylor University. To you I hand the torch."
Brooks died May 14, 1931—30 years to the day after the death of another Baylor legend, President Rufus C. Burleson.
His Immortal Message, read to the Class of 1931 during commencement on May 27, is still read to members of the Baylor family.