• 4 Baylor Bears whose lights are shining bright

    Over the past year, you might have noticed we’ve been focusing a lot on “Baylor Lights.” One of the university’s goals has been to share stories from the Baylor Family about how Bears are shining their light on our campus, in their communities, and across the world. We’ve heard from so many amazing Bears who are doing just that — here are just a few recent examples:

    Pamela Wei, senior accounting major

    Pamela Wei

    “I physically can’t remember why on earth I chose Baylor, because Baylor is not one of the places in China that’d people would be like ‘Oh, Baylor, that’s my dream school!’ Looking back on it, I can say it was God’s plan. There’s no other way to explain it, because literally there was no motive for me to just go to Baylor, because all of my friends were picking other schools. I’d say it’s God.

    “I met my best friend, Sarah Webber, in the first week of college. We were in the same dorm, in Brooks College… She’s so kind and gentle and caring that we became really quick friends. She told that me she believed in God really early on, and I was like, ‘Interesting…’, because I knew she got like a 4.0 all of her life, and she was in pre-med with a Spanish and a business minor. Back in China, only the old people believe in Jesus, at least as far as I know… ‘Only weak people need Jesus.’ So, I was like, ‘Oh, okay, you’re perfectly fine and you’re smart. You know science better than I do, and you believe in this “supernatural thing,” so it must be real to you, at least.’ That really brought my interest into this whole thing. Other than that, she was really, really caring. She wasn’t always purposefully sharing the Gospel with me. She shared the Gospel with me through her life, basically.

    “She brought me to Christ. She’d eat with me, she’d hang out with me. I remember the first Thanksgiving dinner I went to was through her. She brought me to her lifegroup and there was like a party there. I was like, ‘Oh this is so cute! This is the first time I had turkey!’ She loved me so well. I didn’t realize that was her investing in me, but she loved me so, so well, and eventually she brought me to Christ. She was the first real friend I’d ever had, and after that I joined the Chinese church community and people there, and instantly found a home away from home.”

    Kaley VanValkenburg, senior biology/neuroscience major

    Kaley VanValkenburg

    “When I came into Baylor, my parents had just filed for divorce, so that mission trip [Baylor Line Camp Guatemala] was a big answer to a prayer of needing guidance in my spiritual relationship.

    “I wasn’t really myself the first few days on that trip, I felt very out of my comfort zone and I was struggling with my relationship with Christ, seeing other people who were much more confident in theirs. I finally just kind of told people, ‘Look, I’ve been carrying this weight for the past four months now, and I haven’t really shared it with anyone.’ That’s when I realized the importance of vulnerability. That was when I was able to finally have fun on that trip and make actual meaningful connections. I’m still friends with several people who I went on that trip with my freshman year, and that kind of just snowballed for me, being able to be vulnerable with people, and respecting vulnerability and encouraging vulnerability in others.

    “Whenever I returned as a student leader, I made that a priority for my campers, to see me be vulnerable so that they might in return think it’s okay to share themselves with a group of people, because yes, it’s really scary, but it’s also a really big growing experience. So, by admitting my struggles, I met people going through the same thing. You don’t meet those people unless you talk about it. Vulnerability has kind of been the keyword of my college experience.”

    Gabriela Fierro, sophomore political science and environmental studies major

    Gabriela Fierro

    “Growing up, I would enter my home and hear salsa music already playing. I’d smell asado grilling, I’d smell arepas, which I make all the time for my friends and family. It was kind of an expectation that at school and outside, I was supposed to be white, but when I came inside my house, then it was ok to be Hispanic, and I didn’t like that.

    “Baylor kind of opened the door for me to say, ‘No, I can do both.’ I can be proud of who I am and bring in other people to celebrate that while enjoying other cultures around me. At Baylor, I feel like I can be myself.

    “I saw [Baylor’s Hispanic Students Association] as an opportunity to bring everyone together, which is when I started to get more involved. We rebranded “Fiesta,” which is a name I thought predominately has the Mexican culture in it, to “Parranda,” which means like a large party. … I wanted to expose everyone to vocabulary they didn’t hear a lot about. Parranda is popular in Venezuela, Colombia, Argentina. It’s a word that incorporates more countries than just Central America.

    “Students there were saying ‘I saw Brazil.’ They said they felt separated from the Hispanic community because technically they’re Latino, not Hispanic. They were like, ‘Thank you, thank you for that.’ We had dancers come, they tour, they had just come from Colombia. You saw people that were black, people that were white, people that were Asian, that were Hispanic, up there dancing with them. That’s what made it worth it.”

    Gigi Mendoza, senior special education major

    Gigi Mendoza

    “My parents are both teachers, like my whole family. I wasn’t set on being a teacher. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but then I coached a special needs cheer team, and I loved that. Then one day I went to help my mom in her PE classroom, and I helped out with an adaptive PE class and fell in love with that.

    “I get busy and stuff sometimes with [acrobatics & tumbling], so I miss class… I’m always like, ‘What did we do in class?’ and my classmates are so sweet: ‘We did this, do you want my notes?’ Even my teachers are super accommodating and super awesome. I feel so lucky to have such a good support system at school.

    “And my coaches, I can’t praise them enough. Since I do have my internship, and it goes into practice, I was stressed out, really during the beginning of the year. I went to my coach and was like, crying. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do. I don’t want to miss practice, but I have to go to my internship.’ She was like, ‘Gigi, it’s going to work out — you’re going to be fine. If you come to practice late, you’ll be okay. We’re going to figure it out.’

    “She’s just super supportive. She always puts school first. My schedule has always been kind of like, kind of messed up. There’s not many of us, especially my major, and the special ed schedule is kind of weird. I have later classes and stuff like that, and she’s always worked with me and always been supportive and always been there for me and just very positive. You know when someone cares about you, and cares about you more than being an athlete, but as a person, too. The coaches just are always there for us, as an athlete but also as a person. I picked the right school, because there’s nothing like this place.”

    Read more profiles like these here.

    Sic ’em, #BaylorLights!

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