By Shari Downing, Development and Awards Coordinator
I’s not easy to surprise me. I have two teenage daughters and a very precocious seven-year-old, so that means I’m usually ready for anything. But I was caught completely off guard at the Alumni By Choice brunch sponsored by the Baylor Alumni Association on Saturday, February 14.
I’ve worked for the association about two years, and one of the hats I wear is awards coordinator. In that role, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the committees who select recipients and the exciting opportunity of meeting those who are being honored. I was looking forward to the ABC brunch–not only for the food!–but for the chance to meet some of the sixty-six recipients being inducted into the Baylor family.
I had been collecting the nominations, and I had been moved as I read many of them. Some were from Baylor alums who wanted to acknowledge a hardworking parent who was unable to attend Baylor, but found a way to send their child here. Others were from spouses who wanted to honor a loved one who had supported them as they went to Baylor, and who grew to love her without ever getting to attend themselves. Many ABC recipients have attended games, gone to Pigskin, paid tuition, cried at graduation, and sang “That Good Ole Baylor Line”–all with great pride.
Reading some of the nominations made me think of myself. I wasn’t fortunate enough to go to Baylor, but I’ve lived in Waco all my life and have grown to love Baylor and think of her as my school, too. As I greeted the people that walked in the building that morning, I was so touched by all the smiling and proud faces, as many told me how special it was to finally become an official part of the Baylor family.
Our speaker, Merrie Beckham, was the first ABC recipient in 1986 and has spoken at every ABC event since. Her stories of being an outsider who married a Bear and grew to love Baylor herself were as hilarious as they were true. She addressed a capacity crowd of about 135 people, and the laughter was so loud that I am sure they heard us across the street. Each recipient was brought up to receive an ABC “diploma” from Baylor’s interim president, Dr. David Garland, as Jeff Kilgore, our EVP, read from the nomination. I personally had read and re-read them all in preparation for the event, but it felt new and more meaningful when I had a face to put with the names.
Our last two certificates had been held aside because we had the honor of presenting David and Diana Garland their certificates this year. I was listening for their names when I heard some comments that I knew were not in the official script. Jeff was supposed to be presenting certificates to the Garlands, but instead he was saying MY name!
Our staff had nominated me without my knowledge and actually kept it a secret until that moment. I would like to have checked my teeth and reapplied my lip gloss, but I walked up to receive my very own certificate and pose for my picture with Dr. Garland anyway. In that moment, I felt like a true Bear. And later, as I looked back over the list of recipients, I thought that not many Baylor alumni can say that Baylor’s interim president, dean of our School of Social Work, and head football coach were all in their class. But I can!