Samuel Palmer Brooks and a Baylor Commencement for the ages
In the long history of Baylor Commencement celebrations, one stands above the rest.
It’s been 85 years since Baylor graduates first heard the now-legendary “Immortal Message,” the posthumous charge from President Samuel Palmer Brooks, BA 1893, to the Class of 1931. Brooks’ words and deeds — both the message, and his actions in the weeks leading up to Commencement that year — have inspired the Baylor family ever since.
A year earlier, Brooks — the longest tenured president in Baylor history — had been diagnosed with cancer. During his 29 years in office, Baylor had grown from a small school of less than 300 students to a burgeoning campus of over 3,500. His administration saw the establishment of Baylor College of Medicine, Baylor College of Dentistry, and what is now Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, plus the organization of Baylor’s College of Arts and Sciences and Schools of Education, Music, Nursing, and Business. His tenure included the nation’s first collegiate Homecoming in 1909, and the student vote that chose the bear as the school’s mascot in 1914.
Even while battling the disease, his indomitable love for Baylor led him on an extensive fundraising tour that left a debt-free university to his eventual successor (and former Baylor roommate), Pat Neff. But, by the spring in 1931, he realized his time was drawing to a close. As Commencement neared, he was moved when he found out that Baylor’s seniors hoped their beloved president would still be able to sign their diplomas. Weary and bedridden from his disease, he made a determined effort to do just that.
Realizing he would not be able to speak at Commencement, he left a final charge to the Class of 1931 and “seniors of all years” that we now know as the “Immortal Message.” Brooks passed away on May 14, 1931, shortly before commencement, but that “Immortal Message” was read to seniors a few days later in a moving ceremony that still resonates.
In his final words to the Baylor family, Brooks closed with a charge that inspires all Bears to care for the university just as he did:
“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.”
That Immortal Message is still read to members of the Baylor family today, and will continue to be so as long as stars shall shine.
Sic ’em, Samuel Palmer Brooks!