A Look Back

March 1, 2023
People Riding Donkeys

From the outside looking in, Baylor’s Diadeloso celebration might seem a bit odd. For all intents and purposes, it appears to be a random weekday off in the waning days of the spring semester just as finals loom on the horizon. However, Diadeloso’s purpose becomes a bit clearer when examined through the lens of a Baylor student circa 1932. Times were tough. It was a period of tremendous change not just for the world following the Great Depression and World War I, but for Baylor as well. The University was mourning the passing of President Samuel Palmer Brooks just before graduation in 1931, and his successor, President Pat Neff, had some enormous shoes to fill. 

President Neff brought with him a clear concept of what constitutes a quality college education. He believed the first half involved pedagogy and classroom work, and the second comprised the variety of experiences that students had with each other and with faculty. So, to help foster those experiences, President Neff instituted a one-day holiday held on May 11, 1932, so the students could welcome in the spring. 

It was a day of games and contests, a high point of which was the sight of President Neff engaged in donkey races against the other staff members. Despite not all students buying into the appropriateness of a holiday so close to the end of the academic year, the spring student holiday known as All-University Day became an annual event following affirmative campus-wide votes two years in a row. Just a few years later in 1937, the holiday had grown from a handful of games to a whole jamboree consisting of 99 different events, including jacks, leapfrog, a bicycle race, swimming, baseball, tug-o-war and, of course, a donkey race.

In a stark contrast to the austere days of the early 1930s, Baylor students of 1966 had a bevy of reasons to be excited. Student workers’ hourly salaries had been raised to $1.25. A new Doctor of Philosophy degree in religion had been announced. 

In February 1966, 35 years after the first spring student holiday and several iterations later, a campus-wide election was held to give Baylor’s unique holiday a proper name. The vote was a landslide, and the spring holiday was christened “Diadeloso” — the “Day of the Bear.” Diadeloso’s “inaugural” activities included ping pong, billiards, bowling, relay contests and a host of other games and athletic contests.

What started as a way to bring smiles to the faces of students in 1932 by giving them a break from classes, continues as a much-beloved University tradition to this day as Baylor celebrates its 91st Diadeloso. Present-day Diadeloso shares much of the same spirit as it did when it began, with athletic challenges like tug-o-war and plentiful other games and activities. While animated by the same spirit as its forerunner, modern Dia has some significant upgrades, including a small fleet of food trucks, a tournament, pickleball, an obstacle course, axe throwing and other activities. More than just a random day off in the spring semester, Diadeloso provides Baylor students with a much-needed moment to take a deep breath, blow off some steam, and relax for a beat before the final push of the academic year. Who knows? Maybe the University will bring back the staff donkey races someday as an additional treat for faculty and students alike.