Baylor is at the top of the food chain when it comes to Texas universities. We are a top-notch institution academically. We are a top-ranked school in the polls, producing win after win in seemingly every sport. We are nationally recognized for so many things. However, there is one glaring flaw that brings us down in the eye test.
We are in Waco, Texas.
Among all other Texas universities, Waco seems to be the worst location of them all. University of Texas is in Austin, which speaks for itself. Texas A&M is located in College Station, our neighbor down the Brazos that has a legendary nightlife scene. TCU can be found in the heart of Fort Worth, arguably Texas’ best city.
And yet, here we are stuck in Waco. I believe the most common knock against student life at Baylor is that we are located in a medium-sized, poverty-stricken city in the heart of the state.
Unlike our football team, there’s nothing flashy about Waco. There’s nothing that blows you away once you leave the Baylor Bubble. Unlike our brethren in Austin, College Station and the DFW area, there is nothing sexy about Waco life.
But maybe that’s the great thing about Waco. I know when I was a freshman I hated this place. If I left the confines of Baylor, I knew I would have absolutely no fun. Sure, there were good times to be had grabbing food with the buds, going to a party on the weekend or playing some basketball at the McLane Student Life Center.
The problem was, I judged Waco without experiencing its rough beauty. As I grew into my Baylor career, I braved the void that was Waco, testing the waters with apprehension.
What I found was awesome.
Of course, I knew about Cameron Park. It had a great view of the Brazos, nice trails to run and good Instagram material. However, when I first sat around in the park and walked through the trees, I felt at peace. I forgot about Baylor; I forgot about the stress of school. I found I wanted more out of my experience and more out of Waco.
I ventured out to Lake Waco. I wandered on the dirty banks, looking out at the nice homes that lined the hills across the water. Outside of the Baylor Bubble, I felt more at home on those damp, swampy grounds.
Next, I explored the city, and I found the uniqueness in local businesses, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the Wacoan lives. I’ve talked to people who have lived in Waco their whole lives, and I learn more every time. I learn about life here, whether for better or for worse. I learn about places to go, things to see, history to hear about. Waco has a story, as do all cities, yet it is a story not to be researched but explored. It is a town of experience.
I eat at a local small Cajun café in East Waco almost twice a week now. I enjoy talking with Waco natives about high school football. I meet people who have known the ups and downs of this place — the ones who have seen it all — and it is fascinating. I regularly go back to the lake to find some peace away from the world.
College is said to be the most exciting time of your life, and I’ll admit, flashy excitement is not something to be found in Waco. Instead, real, raw emotion is found. The quietness of a small town is heard and seen. Waco people are a breed all their own, a mix of uniqueness unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.
Waco is what you make of it. You can choose to live out your time here in Waco wishing for something to go down between football games. You can hate living in such a strange town, surrounded by unfamiliarity. Or you can choose to explore, to give Waco a chance. I promise you, you won’t be disappointed in what you find.
Tyler Cagle is a senior English major from Abilene. He is a sports writer for the Lariat.