By Judy Henderson Prather, Communications Coordinator
I’m not usually an “after-five” kind of girl. More evenings than not, my after-five attire is pajamas–slipped into as soon as I get home from the office because I can’t think of a good reason for changing clothes twice in an evening.
But once a year, I gladly don my shimmery best for an alumni association-sponsored black-tie event–the Distinguished Alumni Awards Banquet. I join my colleagues and a very distinguished guest list, as we annually celebrate the accomplishments of some of Baylor’s brightest and best. (Here I am pictured between two other members of the Class of 1973, David and Mary Massar Malone.)
I have to admit that for a job, it’s a lot of fun. During the twenty-plus years I’ve been employed with the association, I’ve helped celebrate the lives and accomplishments of several dozen Baylor graduates, all of whom have gone out from our alma mater to make a distinctive mark on the world, while reflecting honor back onto Baylor University by the lives they have lived.
This year, the four honorees could not have been more different. A young West Texas oilman, a retired missionary to Nigeria, a Houston doctor, and a Hollywood writer and director–each one worthy of acclaim for their worthy, generous lives.
As I look back over the roster from years past, a few other recipients stand out in my memory as well:
Carole Cook, the red-haired Lucille Ball-style actress, called everyone “Dahling.” And after her acceptance speech, she plopped herself down into the lap of a very surprised Dr. Herbert Reynolds.
The writer Robert Fulghum accepted his award with a different style than that to which we were accustomed. Wearing a turtleneck sweater and a lapel mike, he walked as he talked–delivering thoughtful, finely crafted words like those that had earned his best-selling-author status.
Last year, the award was given to Abelardo Valdez, a Washington, D.C., attorney and former ambassador and chief of protocol for the White House. The child of poor migrant workers, Valdez reminded us of something we saw demonstrated again during this Inauguration week–that the United States of America is a land of opportunity for those willing to strive for excellence, regardless of ethnicity or background.
Perhaps the recipient who affected me most was Faith Willard, a preacher’s kid/retired schoolteacher who made the decision back in the 1970s to travel to Bangladesh, the poorest country in the world at the time, and try to make a difference. Within a few years, Willard had established a widow’s training center, an orphanage, a community clinic, and a hostel for young women. As we left the banquet that evening, I overheard one of the deans of our university comment about Miss Willard, “That woman has single-handedly accomplished more than many governments have.”
This year, as banquet-goers were leaving, I again heard the comment that someone says almost every year: “Wasn’t tonight amazing? How can we possibly find recipients this good again next year?”
What’s truly amazing is that we only scratch the surface. This year, it was corporate business, entertainment, medicine, and missions. Next time it might be government, education, sports, and the arts. In countless fields of endeavor, Baylor alumni are flinging their green and gold, making distinguished contributions–though they may not ever receive wide acclaim.
Our program staff would shudder at the thought, but we could hold a banquet like this every Friday night and not begin to acknowledge the thousands upon thousands of Baylor graduates who are making their mark in this world every day.
Now that’s worth dressing up for! Don’t you agree?