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We’ve Only Just Begun: 35 Years of Baylor Sisterhood

Back in the Big Hair 80’s, I was a proud Baylor Bear who thought she had life all figured out by the time she was old enough to call herself a college student. Like Mary Tyler Moore joyously flinging her beret skyward, I had made it, after all. Welcome to a dormitory world full of hundreds of potential new friends.

College life was all about the here and now. I doubt I ever wondered whom I would be hanging with in my 50’s, and what we might be discussing. I felt fairly certain I would stay young forever, devouring pizza at midnight and always having plenty of time and energy to connect with my girlfriends. Sure, we were all pursuing our degrees, contemplating our career choices and perhaps scanning the horizon for a future mate, but in my still very childlike mind, why would that change anything?

Even as a college senior, it’s simply too daunting to confront the truth: how graduation day arrives, and eventually everyone’s paths begin to diverge. Much like the effects of the aging process, it’s easier to let that truth sneak up on you.

Take our faces, for example. At age 54, my road map of “laugh lines” thankfully did not appear all at once—although, for some unexplainable reason, I always seem to spot a brand new one every year on my birthday. It’s not as if a door slams when you leave college and you never see your girlfriends again. Finally enjoying the benefits of a regular paycheck, we enjoyed dinners out after work, the occasional girls’ trip, lots of birthday celebrating, and hosted engagement parties, bridal showers and bachelorette parties for one another.

But as the calendar pages flipped, the soundtracks to our lives began, ever-so-slightly, to take on a new rhythm. Careers became more consuming, jobs took us farther away for better opportunities, babies arrived and adorably sucked up every last ounce of remaining free time. Mistakes were made, life choices were questioned, divorces happened, therapy was sought, re-evaluating and restructuring occurred. Our parents became increasingly fragile. New social communities were formed around the active and demanding lives of our children or careers. Sleep became a precious commodity. Lumps were discovered, health issues surfaced. Our mortality was highlighted, much like our hair, on a sacred and timely basis, to keep us looking youthful. And don’t even get me started on how a gym membership was no longer an indulgence once we hit 40.

These issues crept in like squatters and began to occupy the increasingly crowded space in our heads. We wore many hats, juggled many plates and bore many burdens. I never stopped to realize how drastically life had changed from my college days of taking it one semester at a time, and successfully making ends meet off of tips from my part-time job as a waitress at Red Lobster.

Back in those simpler times I never imagined myself as a bona-fide adult, with bona-fide adult challenges and a To Do list that kept me awake at night. Years went by where our lives were simply too chaotic for eight women to agree on one weekend to take off and indulge in three days worth of “catching up.”

One of the positive things about middle age is that you finally start feeling like you have a little time for yourself again. Suddenly, there were more and more weekends without a Little League game or a piano recital, and a reunion or two wasn’t such a far-fetched possibility after all. Recalling my younger years had begun to feel more like watching a film than participation in my own memories, and I hoped that reconnecting with old friends would correct that.

When I reunite with these Baylor sisters, it brings me great joy and giddiness to ditch my adult self for a few days and return to that ridiculously carefree girl I was in college. In our minds’ eye, that is how we all view each other. Our old stories are like legendary campfire tales, they grow bigger and better at every re-telling, and we never grow tired of hearing them.

Since turning 50, we recognized the importance of reuniting as often as possible, even though we are inconveniently spread out across the country and the globe. All eight of us were pledge sisters in Pi Beta Phi. Only two of us in the attached photo knew each other prior to college, the rest of us were drawn together solely through living in Collins Hall and through pledging the sorority.

Throughout our four years on campus, in the imaginary Venn Diagram of our lives, we all intermingled in several different friend groups. It was not as if all eight of us lived together or did everything together, but somehow a strong, magical bond amongst us has withstood the test of time. It’s as if a real-life Hogwarts “Sorting Hat” clearly knew, if we were thrown into the same pledge class back in 1983, a robust chemistry would emerge.

Most recently, we gathered in July of 2018 at the Aspen vacation home of Lauren Keathley Read. Upon departure, I penned in Lauren’s guest book:  “Had we the opportunity to stare into a crystal ball during our Baylor days, to glimpse our future selves seated around your dining room table last night, laughing and crying, humbly admitting our deepest troubles and sharing our deepest joys, I think, overall, despite the setbacks, we would have been thrilled with the preview.”

Perhaps we would have been amazed— but intrigued is probably a more accurate word— to foresee how we had all embraced and owned an impressive array of life events: divorces, deaths, solid marriages, second marriages, miscarriages, children, step children, disabled children, grandchildren, cancer, career crises, personal crises, financial worries and even political differences, all enriching and seasoning the Great American Novels that comprise our collective soul. Maybe we shed a few tears, but overall, we are smiling, we are uplifting, we are together. This time, by choice.

Photo left to right: Lauren Keathley Read (co-founder of the Jeffrey Alan and Lauren Keathley Read Departmental Endowed Scholarship for Real Estate majors and whose son Bryan attends Baylor); Kathy Stanton Ambrose (Bear Foundation member, three of her children graduated from Baylor: Daniel, Amy and Kyle); Jennifer Philpot, Lauren Orsini Hammerberg, Kelly Chandler Michaels (past president of the East Texas Baylor Women’s Network and Baylor Alumni Lifetime Member); Marjo Glass Richmond (Baylor Alumni Member) Mimi Terry Bommarito, and Jill McDonnell Gibson (daughter Carly currently attends Baylor, she jokes she and her husband are in the “Tuition Club”)

When the planets align it is powerful, and when old friends align it creates a powerful energy too.

There exists, for me, such a comfort in quality time spent with olden, golden friends. A sorority is so much more than an outlet for your free time in college, although I would never expect any young person to be able to truly understand this until you have lived more than two decades of your life.

When I began to lay down roots during my years at Baylor and make friends, I unwittingly made an investment in my future happiness. At the time, I didn’t even realize my wisdom in creating such a valuable support system for my older self. I just loved being with girls who loved El Chico or Oso Burrito as much as I did! I sometimes questioned whether I was truly cut out for sorority life, but I never questioned my love and appreciation for these loyal friends.

Thanks to Baylor, in addition to receiving a valuable education, I received sisters. Sisters who make me feel young and invincible again, sisters who make my face hurt from too much laughing, sisters who know the real me and loved me anyway, even when I was a self-absorbed closet-raider who never contributed her fair share of toilet paper. A treasured relationship I hope I can write about again some day, when we all hit 100.

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1 thought on “We’ve Only Just Begun: 35 Years of Baylor Sisterhood”

  1. Down the road from Aspen with four other members of the class of ’80 but having a very similar experience.

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