• As a teen, she was homeless, then left on her own. Now, she’s a Baylor graduate.

    Denise Anderson

    In some ways, Denise Anderson’s viral tweet said it all: Two drug-addicted parents. Removed to a domestic abuse shelter at age 12. Homeless and on her own by age 16.

    Then… Accepted to Baylor. Contractually signed to a law firm at age 20. Baylor University graduate, Class of 2017.

    But if you tell Denise that she seems to have conquered the impossible, she might disagree with you. Instead, this new Baylor graduate — she’s set to walk the Ferrell Center stage Saturday — stands firm in believing that resilience, the Lord’s providence, and the generosity of others all played a part in carrying her to where she is today.

    As mentioned in her tweet, Denise was raised in an environment of abuse and addiction. Her father fought a narcotics addiction after a military injury led to his discharge; her mother, struggling to separate Denise and her four sisters from their abusive father, eventually succumbed to addiction as well. Over several years, the family was in and out of domestic abuse centers, even experiencing homelessness, and repeatedly returning to Denise’s father for shelter. Eventually, Denise woke up one day to find her mother was gone; without any extended family to lean on, she and her sisters relied on each other to get by.

    It was around this time that Denise happened to visit Baylor — and she fell in love. “I don’t know why,” she recalls today. “It just felt like home, and it was somewhere that I needed to be. I remember being about 13 years old and praying to God that I would end up here somehow.” Over the last decade, God has answered that prayer — often through Baylor Bears.

    For instance… As a sophomore in high school, frustrated with the hardships in her life, Denise was ready to give up on her college dreams.  That’s when a mentor encouraged her to connect with a Baylor Law School professor to better prepare for her future. Denise emailed longtime Baylor Law professor David Guinn and asked to sit in on his class. Not only did Guinn accept her request, he waited for her outside his classroom with a pocket Constitution containing a personal note — which she keeps on her desk to this day. (He also told her to come back any time and reconnect with him if she got accepted to Baylor; when she did, he connected her with a work-study job at the Baylor Law library.)

    During her senior year of high school, Denise was tutored by a Baylor student named Miesha Dunn, who quickly gathered that something was not right about her student’s home situation. She took Denise and her sisters under her wing, ensuring that they had food, someone to talk to, and most importantly, a safe space to live. (Dunn’s parents would eventually take in Anderson’s two younger sisters after a violent breaking point with their father.)

    In 2013, Anderson was accepted to the only college that she applied to: Baylor. But her freshman year at Baylor was a struggle. Unable to afford room and board, her freshman year “dorm experience” consisted of a couch and a coffee table in the apartment of one of Miesha’s friends. She worked two jobs to support herself — all while taking 17 hours of classes a semester.

    Things got even more complicated during Denise’s senior year, when she started experiencing serious health issues that were eventually diagnosed as Addison’s disease. But it was that spring that she met another Baylor Bear who, she says, has been the biggest blessing of her life: Nora Farah, BA ’06, JD ’08, a Waco lawyer with whom Anderson was matched for an internship. Denise says Farah helped her juggle her health issues, two jobs, and the internship, and says her graduation is testimony to Farah’s friendship and parental leadership. Farah provided both career mentorship and life lessons, teaching Anderson many of the little things she never learned from her parents: how to pump gas, how to get a bank account, how to get a driver’s license, etc.

    Thanks in large part to Baylor Bears such as Farah, Dunn and Guinn, Denise is now officially a part of Baylor’s Class of 2017. She is currently working for Farah managing her law firm; she hopes to attend law school, stay in Waco to practice law, and start a scholarship fund for kids in Waco who want to go to college.

    “The people are all caring in this community, and I think that’s part of the reason why I felt so close to Baylor in my heart,” says Anderson. “It just lights up a fire in you — and it lit up a fire in me. I wasn’t going anywhere else… If I didn’t have anything else, it was always something Baylor-related that gave me hope, that gave me something to fight for. If not anything else, I was going to get a Baylor degree and I was going to be a Baylor Bear.”

    Sic ’em, Denise — you did it!