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Hats-off tradition kindles respect for military service

Published: Thursday, April 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 22:07

hats-off traditions

Miki Fan -- The Battalion

Across the country, citizens remove their hats for the national anthem, during prayers and for other special events. When entering the Memorial Student Center on April 21, students and visitors will have one more reason to “uncover” with the renewal of an old tradition.

Students began removing their hats when going inside the MSC as a sign of respect as early as the building’s opening in 1951, but it was only an unofficial tradition for several years.

In her book, “Building Leaders, Living Traditions,” Amy Bacon, Class of 1991 and vice president of development for the MSC, said visitors  to campus were informed of the practice once it became an official tradition.

“An additional way to honor [Aggies who died in war] officially originated in 1953 with the adoption of the hats-off policy,” Bacon said. “Although many members of the student body instinctively removed their hats as they entered the MSC, visitors and guests did not always do so.”

In November 1953, the MSC Council made it a policy for men to remove their hats while inside the building. Organizations helped spread the word by passing out pamphlets.

Traditions may not be convenient, but there are reasons behind them. Former student Dimitri Caver, Class of 1990, said observing this tradition is an important sign of respect.

“It was burdensome sometimes, but I didn’t mind removing my hat,” Caver said. “I just remembered that it was a small token of honor and respect. I appreciated the ‘Memorial’ in MSC.”

Current students may have to learn — or relearn — MSC traditions after three years of construction, and it may take time to grow accustomed to traditions such as hats-off. Stefani Freemyer, freshman interdisciplinary studies major, said Aggies live for tradition and will gladly accept this one, as well.

“I love how the traditions unify the students,” Freemyer said. “I think it will take some time for students to relearn the traditions of the MSC. However, I know everyone will be dedicated to doing so. There won’t be any trouble merging in the hats-off tradition — we’re Aggies; we live for tradition.”

The Class of 2016 will be the first freshman class to experience an open MSC since the Class of 2012. These students will attend their New Student Conference and some will go to Fish Camp and Impact to learn the many traditions Texas A&M has to offer.

Meghan Hall, a prospective student accepted to the Class of 2016, said that the hats-off tradition has to be learned, but is a natural way of showing respect.

“I think the hats-off tradition will have to be taught,” Hall said. “Taking your hat off is a simple sign of respect, so I think it is only natural that we do that in a living memorial.”

Caver said there were some in his time at A&M that did not remove their hats, and feared that  years later, student cooperation with the policy might decrease even more.  

“We had a few students during my years at Aggieland who didn’t seem to get it,” Caver said. “I would imagine that the lack of understanding and respect has only increased with the current generation, but I do think significance can be taught.”

This was also a concern for Derek Bull, junior human resources and development major and first sergeant of Darling Recruiting Company.

Bull said entering the SEC is another concern for the preservation of this tradition.

“I suspect the real problems will start when our first SEC game is held at Kyle Field,” Bull said. “For those not familiar with the SEC, when one of those teams leaves town to play an away game, they bring 10,000 or more fans with them who are not only ignorant of the traditions, but may not even care about them.”

Visitors may not be conscious of the tradition, and as Bacon’s book mentions, in the past, students have politely asked them to uncover to respect those who died in service of country.

Texas A&M has numerous traditions that are founded by respect those who have served in the military. Bull said aside from the MSC being a memorial itself, the hats-off tradition is another way of showing true respect and honor to those that have served in war.

“I encourage students across the University to not forget that the Memorial Student Center is a living memorial to all Aggies who have died or will die in past, present or future wars. It is for this reason that no hats in the MSC is a tradition,” Bull said. “Because the building itself is a memorial and is therefore forever honoring those who died, wearing your hat inside the building would be similarly as disrespectful as wearing jeans and a T-shirt to a funeral.”  

The hats-off tradition officially started in 1953. On April 21, students will enter the MSC for the first time in three years and remove their hats to honor and respect Aggies who have sacrificed their lives for the nation.

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