By Bridget Sjoberg |

The first time I visited Waco, Texas was in November of 2016 for my first college tour of Baylor University. To say I left confused would be an understatement. Waco was a hodgepodge of quirky, rustic cafes and boutiques fit between abandoned buildings and dilapidated barns. I didn’t know what to think about this not-quite-a-city spot that to me seemed to be located in the middle of nowhere.

Now, as a sophomore at Baylor, I can confidently say that I appreciate Waco, Texas. I don’t love Waco and I certainly would never live here, but I have a deep respect for the community and spirit present in the city. My initial least favorite aspect of attending Baylor has slowly become something I consider to be one of the most unique aspects of the university.

Waco doesn’t have a great history and until recently, actually had a fairly poor reputation. When people thought of Waco, their mind instantly went to the infamous Branch Davidian cult, or they thought of a strange drive-through town on the way to bigger cities like Dallas or Austin.

I arrived in Waco at a good time for the city. Instead of being asked “Isn’t that where that creepy cult used to be?” the question became “Is that where Chip and Joanna Gaines live?” Fixer Upper played a huge role in putting Waco back on the map for positive reasons and sparked tourism and hope in a place once thought of as fairly uninteresting.

There’s a certain quality about Waco that makes you root for it. You’re not sure why, but you constantly wish the best for the city and look forward to progress. Waco’s draw lies not just in the success of Magnolia or even in Baylor, but rather in the supportive enthusiasm Waco locals have for their community.

As a writer for Baylor’s student-run newspaper The Baylor Lariat, I’ve had the chance to meet people that represent this enthusiasm for Waco’s future. I met a young couple that moved to Waco and opened up a pop-up coffee stand specializing in pour-over drinks. I met the co-founder of a local hat company where all proceeds benefit local charity efforts. I talked to the owner of the popular coffee shop, Common Grounds, who also happens to be a Baylor grad. My friend’s relatives own a local art gallery downtown on Austin Avenue where they host events and exhibits.

These are the types of people that make Waco unique and set it apart from other up-and-coming locations. The entrepreneurial spirit and desire of Wacoans to establish their city as one of community and support makes me proud to call Waco home, even if it’s only for four years. Nearly every time I drive through Waco, I notice a new mural or coffee shop or boutique or restaurant and appreciate the desire of locals to promote growth and create spots that cater to a variety of audiences.

Waco had over two million visitors last year. I do believe that a large part of this recent success can be credited to the popularity of the Magnolia brand, but maybe, just maybe, there’s another underlying quality that Waco possesses causing people to take notice and fully appreciate a town once known for struggle, but now known for progress.