Fifteen years after the 1999 Aggie Bonfire Collapse, students and community members gathered at Bonfire Memorial at 2:42 a.m. Tuesday to honor the lives of the 12 Aggies killed in the collapse.
The Bonfire Remembrance ceremony was a success, said Head Yell Leader Patrick McGinty. McGinty said although the temperature was in the 30s, thousands of Aggies still came out on Tuesday morning.
“Just seeing so many students coming together and embodying the Aggie spirit, and seeing the families and how much it still moves them to see thousands of students who didn’t know their child come out in support, I think it was a very successful event,” McGinty said.
The ceremony adjusted to address concerns heard after last year’s event by the E. King Gill subcommittee of Traditions Council, which runs the remembrance. Joel Russell, chemistry senior and member of E. King Gill, said the end of the ceremony was changed to add an additional sentence officially closing the ceremony until next year by Yell Leader Roy May.
“The ceremony conclusion, I think it worked because everybody knew exactly when it had ended, and last year that was one of our big problems was nobody knew when to leave and it was just a succinct way to say, ‘Okay, you’re free to go,’” Russell said.
Another issue addressed was the volume of the yell leaders. McGinty said the yell leaders worked with Traditions Council beforehand to make sure more students could hear and follow along with the yell leaders for the ceremony.
“I could hear everything he was saying, I knew that the people behind me on the hill knew what was happening,” Russell said. “The way that the yell leaders presented everything they were saying was really respectful, and there wasn’t any point where you were thinking they were talking too quiet because of how respectful they were trying to be.”
Andrew Pekowski, student bonfire redpot and geology senior, said he has attended Bonfire Remembrance every year since he has been at A&M. He said the louder voices of the yell leaders made a noticeable difference in the feel of the ceremony.
“My first times going, everything was a whisper and it was quiet,” Pekowski said. “And it makes sense because of the somberness of the ceremony itself, but it excluded a lot of people from actually participating because no one could hear what was going on except for the people in the first couple rows. I think the yelling was a whole lot better just for everyone to hear. It seemed like everyone was participating much more; it was more active.”
McGinty said visiting with the families after the ceremony is a moment that will stay with him.
“After the ceremony concluded, I went around and talked to each of the family members who were there,” McGinty said. “Just to see mothers and brothers and sisters in tears 15 years later as a result of students standing in silence, remembering and honoring the lives of their loved ones was easily the most impaction part of the evening. I’ll never forget it.”
Russell said he thought the crowd was larger than last year, although the council will not have an official number.
“Last year I was in the middle of the crowd, so I knew how dense it was, and it was kind of light,” Russell said. “This time, I was in one of the portals so I could see almost everybody funneling in, and it looked really dense toward the center. And there was still a good-sized crowd on the hill, so I would think there were more people this year than last year.”
Russell said the council will hold a general meeting next week where it will consider student feedback.
“Any time we hear positive feedback, we try and make sure we keep doing that, and any negative feedback, we look at it for a while to see what can we change to make sure that’s happening,” Russell said. “That’s what we did with the closing this year.”
Pekowski said he liked that the school passed out buttons, something he said he had not seen in years past.
“This was one of the first times I saw an active group of people going out reminding students to go, and I think you could tell,” Pekowski said.
McGinty said he encouraged every student to visit the memorial at least once.
“I just want to encourage every student who walks on this campus to visit the Bonfire Memorial, read ‘The Last Corps Trip,’ spend time there, attend the remembrance ceremony at least one time during their college career,” McGinty said. “It’s a small amount of time that has such a profound impact on the families, on the spirit of Texas A&M.”