By Rachel Mason | Contributor
A wave of warm, rich chocolate wafts past students’ noses as they entered 1845 at Memorial Dining Hall. Enticed by the smell, they approach a glass counter where a small figure delicately removes oven-hot cookies from a sheet. The woman looks up with her famous smile, the kind that pulls from ear to ear, and says to each of the hungry students, “You have a wonderful day.”
Mei Lan Tam, known to most Baylor students as Ms. Mei, has worked for Baylor for over nine years baking treats, especially chocolate chip cookies, at 1845 at Memorial. The term “Ms. Mei’s cookies” has become a phrase fondly recognized campuswide.
Lan Tam uses her position as an opportunity to be more than a baker, though. She said she tries to be an influencer, an encourager and a servant leader.
Lan Tam said when her children went to college they would speak of the kind people who had helped them and loved them, and she wanted to be that kind of person to Baylor students.
“I love my job because the student[s] make me happy,” Lan Tam said. “They keep me going.”
Lan Tam said she has always been more of a cook but has “learned from the best” when it comes to baking. Lan Tam said she does not think of herself as a great baker. However, considering the sign posted by her counter which regulates the number of cookies that may be taken at one time, students across Baylor nation would beg to differ.
Houston junior Lyon Solntsev said he religiously eats at 1845 at Memorial every week day and often encounters Lan Tam. He said it is remarkable how she consistently engages with students.
“I usually just tell her to have a good day, and she tells me to have a good day too,” Solntsev said.
Houston senior Sam Brittain said that even though he no longer has a meal plan, whenever he does eat on campus, he makes it a point to go to 1845 at Memorial because he can count on a quality meal and a great cookie from Lan Tam.
“You walk in, and you just smell it,” Brittain said. “It’s just like smelling love, or it’s what love would smell like, I think.”
Peggy Altman, lead office administrator of 1845 at Memorial, said she has watched Lan Tam interact with the students and sees Lan Tam as more than a Baylor colleague, but as an influential figure and a genuine individual.
“She comes to life around the students,” Altman said. “It’s her little mission in life.”
Originally from Hong Kong, Lan Tam repeatedly said how grateful she is to have had the opportunity to make even the smallest impact in Waco.
“My story is I have a wonderful job,” Lan Tam said. “That’s my story. And I [have] a really wonderful relationship with the student[s].”
Whether it’s saying hello or asking a student how their day is, Lan Tam said it has been important for her to let students know that they are seen. According to Lan Tam, her goal has been to share happiness, and if she can accomplish that through baking cookies, she said she would be content.
“Everyone loves cookies,” Brittain said. “But above the cookie realm, I think just the way that she holds herself as a very happy person, doing what she loves for the people that she loves, is really insightful and awesome.”
Altman said the students’ love for Lan Tam has only grown over the years. Altman said last May, students planned a day of celebration for Lan Tam called “Mei Day,” featuring cookies and themed T-shirts. Throughout Mei Day, students traveled across campus for one of her hugs and a handful of warm cookies.
“I think the students can feel that she really has a genuine love for them,” Altman said. “It’s not just, ‘I’m coming in, I’m doing my job, I’m clocking in, they’re paying me so I’m here.’ She genuinely loves these students, and she wants [college] to be a good experience for them.”
Garcia said Baylor staff members from Clifton Robinson Tower have heard about Lan Tam and have made special trips to the dining hall to see her. Garcia said Lan Tam is one of those people remembered by many for the way she make them feel.
Brittain said she thinks the reason for Lan Tam’s legacy is that people see her joy and want to reciprocate it.
On the outside, Lan Tam may merely appear to be a phenomenal cookie baker, but to many, she has touched their hearts in deeper, more personal ways, seeking to know them, encourage them and serve them.
Garcia said Lan Tam deserves to be celebrated every day because working with her is like having “love and hugs all day long.”