I was a student at A&M in 1999. I woke up that Thursday morning to 17 messages on the answering machine checking on me, my roommate and my sister. I had no idea what was going on so I turned on the TV and then I watched news footage until I had class. And when my professors cancelled class, I went home and watched more news coverage. Twelve Aggies died that day in 1999 and Aggieland became a different place. I think I became a different person after that day too.
I had just turned 21 the week before. I was technically adult but a still a kid really. I had a job and was going to college (that my parents very nicely paid for). There weren't really any responsibilities. I hadn't really dealt with loss. I didn't personally know any of the people injured or killed in the collapse but I was consumed by grief. I couldn't stop reading or watching news about it for days. When they had removed all of the bodies (I really hate typing that but there isn't a nicer way to say what transpired) from the stack of logs, I went and walked around the perimeter of the Polo Fields where the logs were still laying in a heap. The orange construction fence was full of letters, pictures and flowers. I visited the flag pole in front of the Administration Building where another memorial sprung up. An Aggie left his Aggie ring with a note saying he wanted those who had died to wear it. Most of those killed were underclassmen that hadn't earned their own Aggie ring. Other people followed and left their rings where they stayed for a month before the university sent them back to their owners.
That story is just a glimpse of what kind of place Aggieland is. Not only did a current student leave a gold ring outside where anyone could have walked away with it, but others did as well. And they sat there for a month.
When I was a senior in high school I wanted to attend SMU. I wanted to work in the news industry, in tv or newspapers and SMU had a great journalism department. I was accepted and offered scholarships but when it came time to make a choice, I choose A&M. I didn't have any prior connection to A&M. I honestly didn't know that much about it, other than it was a good school and it was close to my parents house if I ever got homesick.
I think back now and I had no idea what I was getting into but it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I made some bad choices in college. I took the long road to my degree. But every day I'm proud to be a Texas Aggie. Aggies have a saying: "From the outside looking in, you can't understand it. And from the inside looking out, you can't explain it" and it really is true. A lot of people think Aggies are cultish (we are) and stupid (we're not) and there is a reason a million Aggie jokes exist (they are funny).
I never lived on campus. I never worked on Bonfire and I wasn't really actively involved in a lot of the traditions while I was there. I loved my time there and as a Former Student (there are no ex-Aggies) I've become immersed in all things Aggie. I have the great fortune to make trips to College Station on a pretty regular basis. Most of my people I consider good friends now I met through an A&M message board years ago. To this day they are some of the best people I have ever met.
Being an Aggie is more than having a degree from Texas A&M University. The diploma, the ring and education are just a part of it. Being an Aggie is about being a good person, coming together when adversity strikes and making the world a better place. The world is a better place because Texas A&M exists and I'm a better person because I went to Texas A&M.
Bonfire was a tangible symbol of A&M's burning desire to "beat the hell outta t.u." and after it collapsed, the university deemed it unsafe and it no longer takes place on campus. Students took the initiative and began holding Bonfire off campus.
Tomorrow's game will be the last in a 117-year rivalry between the Aggies and the Longhorns. It's likely to come back in the future, but for now A&M is moving to a new conference next year and the heated battles will no longer take place in the arenas and stadiums and on Facebook between fans. I hope in the future it returns and I'm kind of sad tomorrow's game is the last. I'm hoping the Aggies get one last win before moving to the SEC. I hope the current students keep Bonfire alive. And I hope someone reads this whole long blog.
Tomorrow I'll be thankful for many things but mostly, I'll be thankful I'm a Texas Aggie.
|My Aggie Ring|