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The Great School of Which I Have Dreamed: Homecoming 2014

This Homecoming is special for more reasons than many people realize.

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The history of Baylor University, to the casual observer, is a long and convoluted one. The school, chartered in 1845, has been hosted by two cities, absorbed another university, and given birth to a third. It is the largest and most prestigious Baptist university on the planet, a respected name in modern education, an athletic powerhouse, and a true home to thousands of alumni. To the denizens of this blog, Baylor is among the most perfect places on earth, and one that we can call home whenever we step on campus.

It's only fitting that Baylor has the oldest homecoming tradition in the nation (as verified by the Smithsonian Institute in 2012). The first Baylor Homecoming was in 1909 and it remains one of the most prominent traditions at any school.

To appreciate the significance of Homecoming 2014, we need to delve into Baylor's admittedly confusing history.

1886: Waco

Besides 1845, there is little argument that 1886 was the most pivotal year in Baylor's past. It marked the school's move to Waco from Independence. Independence, now an unincorporated municipality in rural Texas, had been passed over by the railroad companies of the day, and Baylor required access to the growing rail network if it was to survive. Waco already played host to Waco University, led by former Baylor president Rufus Columbus Burleson.

When Baylor made the move to Waco, it absorbed Waco University and Burleson was named the head of the newly consolidated institution. At this time, Baylor Female College, which had been left behind in Independence, moved to Belton and grew into the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.

Burleson, a hard man, had opposed Baylor's initial push for coeducation during his original tenure as president from 1851-1861, but he allowed women to attend the Waco campus beginning in 1887. By 1892, Baylor's campus consisted of two buildings that still function today.

The Main Building and Burleson Hall now form two corners of Burleson Quadrangle, the heart of campus in which Rufus Burleson is memorialized. Burleson's statue faces north, across the Brazos. It was reportedly Burleson's dream for Baylor to one day expand and occupy the far bank of the river. In 2014, Burleson's dream has been realized. From the roof of Old Main, one can clearly see McLane Stadium, the Jewel of the Brazos, standing strongly on the north bank of the river. 103 years after Burleson's death, Baylor commands the landscape.

1927: The Immortal Ten

One of the most important moments of Homecoming in any year is Freshman Mass Meeting. The event is closed to the public, open only to the freshman class of the current academic year. During the meeting, the attendees are told the story of the Immortal Ten. Freshman Mass Meeting is a moment that sticks with most students for years, but older alumni and casual Baylor fans could always use a refresher.

January 22, 1927 was a dreary one in Central Texas. The Baylor basketball team, with a handful of fans, was on a bus traveling from Waco to Austin to play the University of Texas. Baylor returned five starters that season and were favorites to win the Southwest Conference.

The bus was driven by Joe Potter, a freshman football player who had driven various Baylor teams around Texas to help pay his way through school. The weather conditions were terrible, and as the bus rolled into Round Rock, Potter didn't realize that he was quickly approaching a railroad crossing. When he noticed that a train was coming through, the roads were too slick to bring the bus to a complete stop before reaching the tracks. Given no alternative, Potter accelerated and pulled the vehicle sharply to the left to draw a glancing blow from the locomotive rather than a full collision. This move is credited with saving several lives.

Looking at the above picture, the mere fact that more than half of the bus's 22 passengers survived is a miracle. The accident claimed ten lives. Among the dead:

Jack Castellaw

Sam Dillow

Merle Dudley

Ivey Foster, Jr.

Robert Hailey

Robert Hannah, Jr.

Clyde "Abe" Kelley

Willis Murray

James Walker

William Winchester

Castellaw is the namesake of Castellaw Communications Building, home of the Baylor Journalism Department. Foster was an athlete who had elected to hitchhike to the game in Austin and had been picked up by the team bus. His father lived in Taylor and identified his son while working to clear the scene and move the dead and wounded.  Kelley, made out to be the hero of the day, is said to have pushed his friend Weir Washam out of the bus just before the crash, and in doing so put his own life in danger. Kelley is the focal point of the Immortal Ten Memorial on campus. The Ten are revered in an almost saintly manner by the Baylor Chamber of Commerce, as a large portion of the club's membership was on the bus that day.

There are countless stories to be told of the Immortal Ten and the survivors of the crash, but those are best left to another post for another day. They were "worthy in every way to be acclaimed true sons of those great spirits who died at the Alamo and Goliad." They are the we of us, and should always occupy a place in Baylor lore.

1931: The Immortal Message

Baylor has had a number of prominent presidents- Rufus Burleson, Pat Neff, William White, Herbert Reynolds,Robert Sloan, and Ken Starr among them- but most Baylor enthusiasts agree that Samuel Palmer Brooks was the greatest. His tenure lasted from 1902 until 1931. He oversaw the establishment of the business school, the first Homecoming, the founding of the Chamber of Commerce, and the selection of Baylor's mascot and the arrival of the first live bear on campus. The school survived the Great Depression under Brooks' leadership and named Brooks College and Brooks Flats for him.

Brooks died on May 14, 1931, just before that year's graduation- he had only signed half of the senior class's diplomas. His final message to the class of '31 was read at graduation and is the defining written work in Baylor's history. The final paragraph is referenced on an almost daily basis. I have included it below, without analysis, for you to read.

"This, my message to the Senior Class of 1931, I address also to the seniors of all years, those seniors of the past and those seniors yet to be. This I do because I love them all equally even as I love all mankind regardless of station or creed, race or religion.

I stand on the border of mortal life but I face eternal life. I look backward to the years of the past to see all pettiness, all triviality shrink into nothing and disappear. Adverse criticism has no meaning now. Only the worthwhile things, the constructive things, the things that have built for the good of mankind and the glory of God count now. There is beauty, there is joy, and there is laughter in life--as there ought to be. But remember, all of you, not to regard lightly nor to ridicule the sacred things, those worthwhile things. Hold them dear, cherish them, for they alone will sustain you in the end; and remember too that only through work and ofttimes through hardships may they be attained. But the compensation of blessing and sweetness at the last will glorify every hour of work and every heartache from hardship.

Looking back now as I do, I see things with a better perspective than ever before and in truer proportions. More clearly do I recognize that God is love. More clearly do I understand the universal fatherhood of God. More clearly do I know the brotherhood of man.

Truths do not change. The truths of life which I learned as a student at Baylor have not varied, nor will they vary. I know now that life has been a summary of that which was taught me first as a student here. As my teachers have lived through me so I must live through you. You who are graduating today will go out into the world to discover that already you have touched much of what the future holds. You have learned the lessons which must fit you for the difficulties and the joys of the years to come. Then hold these college years close in your hearts and value them at their true worth.

Do not face the future with timidity nor with fear. Face it boldly, courageously, joyously. Have faith in what it holds. Sorrow as well as happiness must come with time. But know that only after sorrow's hand has bowed your head will life become truly real to you, for only then will you acquire the noble spirituality which intensifies the reality of life. My own faith as I approach eternity grows stronger day by day. The faith I have had in life is projected into this vast future toward which I travel now. I know that I go to an all-powerful God wherever he may be. I know that he is a personality who created man in His image. Beyond that I have no knowledge--no fear--only faith.

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. 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, of the present, of the future I entrust the care of Baylor University. To you I hand the torch. My love be unto you and my blessing be upon you."

-Samuel Palmer Brooks, 1931

Now, take all of this to heart, and #SicKU

The Immortal Flame - 2014/2015 Baylor Football Hype Video from Ted Harrison on Vimeo.