The Moment I Understood What It Means to be an Aggie

            We all remember it, the moment we understood what it meant to be an Aggie. As students at Texas A&M, we are all Aggies despite our background, first spoken language, skin color, heritage, religion or hometown. We are all Aggies. An Aggie does not have a physical mold, but a genuine heart and love for Texas A&M that only other Aggies will ever understand. The Aggie family embodies diversity and acceptance. My decision to become an Aggie did not reveal its full significance to me until I attended the Bonfire Memorial Ceremony. I did not understand what it meant to be an Aggie when I made the decision to become one in April of 2016. A year ago, my senior year of high school, I had never heard of Silver Taps, Reveille, The Corps of Cadets, the 12th Man or the Bonfire Memorial. I had never even been to Texas. I am a Pennsylvanian, not a Texan. I am different. But, to be an Aggie, it doesn’t matter where you came from.

            If you are going to die, the best way to go is to die an Aggie. An Aggie is never forgotten. Texas A&M will memorialize his or her existence forever. Hundreds of Aggies gathered at 2:42 a.m. to commemorate the loss of twelve Aggies 17 years ago. The sky appeared darker than usual. It was quiet as everyone walked to the far end of campus where the Bonfire Memorial sat. For some time, I became lost in my own thoughts and followed the crowd across campus like an animal mindlessly following the heard. I forgot I had a cell phone that needed checking or a math test in less than twelve hours that I needed to be studying for. The Bonfire Memorial reminded me of life’s brevity. I could never imagine dying as a freshman in college. I couldn’t imagine my father’s face as he got the phone call. What would they say to him? Nothing can buffer such a harsh reality. I thought about the wedding date that would never be set, the children I would never have, and the career I would never get to pursue. This didn’t happen to me, I was one-year-old when the bonfire collapsed, but it did happen to twelve students and their families. Twelve lives cut off, gone on unlived. Twelve families left to deal with the remnants of a lost life.

            I have never seen the Bonfire Memorial at night until the night of the ceremony. The pale orange lights mimicked candlelight. The stone monument looked like it had existed for thousands of years. Hundreds of people stood in silence around the memorial in unison. I didn’t feel like an individual, but like a moving part, a cog in a machine, working as part of a much larger whole. A member of the corps stood to speak, his speech was muted and indecipherable at some points. However, his message was clear—we came together when tragedy struck and the bonfire collapsed, and we came out stronger. His message is applicable to life in general. We must always come out stronger. I thought of how miniscule my problems were in comparison to the bonfire collapsing as the corps member read a poem.

            Together, everyone sang "Amazing Grace," followed by the "Aggie War Hymn." It was sad and beautiful. Each note hung heavy in the air. No matter how loud we sang or how many people gathered around the memorial, nothing could compensate the families for their loss. Most people in Texas were probably sleeping. I pictured my mom 1,000 miles away laying in her bed, back home in Pennsylvania. In that moment, I didn’t want to be anywhere else or anyone else, other than an Aggie. Every time I visit the Bonfire Memorial, I remember the male student who stayed to help rescue other students, and I spend an awful long time wondering if I would have done the same.

            The service was short. Everyone disassembled. I made a mental note to go again next year. The Bonfire Memorial reminded me how precious life is. We commemorated twelve people who didn’t get to live their lives beyond college. I thought about how disrespectful it is to not live our lives to the fullest. We often let fear dictate our lives, but had those twelve students known they would only get roughly 18 short years, how would they have lived their lives differently? Who would they have asked to Midnight Yell? What classes would they have taken? What would they have said on that last phone call to their parents?

            Being an Aggie means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I thought about what it meant to me as I walked home to my apartment, unlocked my door and crawled under my sheets. It means everyone should live his or her life fearlessly. If we want something, we must go ask for it, we must go get it, we cannot wait for it to come to us. I fell asleep wondering what the twelve people who died were waiting for.