The coronavirus has disrupted many traditional moments for celebration as the 2019-2020 academic year comes to an end.
However, Squadron 17 member and communication freshmen Nathan Drain had the idea to carry on the March to the Brazos tradition despite the pandemic. On Saturday, April 25, Drain and the 15 other members of Squadron 17, also known as "Challenger 17,” completed their own versions of March to the Brazos in their hometowns across Texas.
One of the longest standing traditions of Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, the March to the Brazos is an 18-mile celebratory walk where members of the Corps make their unofficial transition up the ranks. Originally started in 1909 only to end three years later, March to the Brazos was reinstated in 1977 and has occurred every year since then. However, due to restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's official march was canceled.
Drain said he was initially very disappointed that restrictions from COVID-19 were preventing him from completing one of the most sacred traditions of the Corps. However, he and his parents had the idea to complete the march in his hometown and encouraged his other squadron members to do the same while practicing social distancing.
"Everything I love about A&M is rooted in the traditions,” Drain said. “Being able to have the same memories as someone who graduated Class of '70, Class of '85 or Class of 2023, it all means the same to me. To have that family atmosphere of feeling like one is the coolest part of the experience."
Drain said he and two of his other squadron members completed the 18-mile walk together in Tyler after 5 hours and 30 minutes. After finishing the first half, Drain said their parents met up with them and they received a surprise Zoom call from some upperclassmen in the Corps who congratulated them and offered some words of encouragement for the second half of their march.
"We were a little nervous that we were not going to be able to finish it or even get to do the march at all,” Drain said. “To be able to finish it and look back on it and have my upperclassmen text me and call me throughout the walk to congratulate us on still keeping the Aggie Spirit alive, that was a really cool experience.”
Nicholas Roth, engineering freshman and member of Squadron 17, completed his version of March to the Brazos with three other freshmen in Cypress. Roth said he wasn’t thrilled about the idea in the beginning, but he began enjoying it as soon as they started on their trail.
“I think it was a good way to bring a sense of closure to everything,” Roth said. "Officially now we're sophomores in the eyes of the Corps, so it was definitely a big moment for all of us after a whole year of learning our place and what our responsibilities are."
Political science freshman and Squadron 17 member Wyatt Spangler, who completed his walk alone outside of Austin, said he enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of such a longstanding tradition.
“Both of my brothers were in the Corps and did their March to the Brazos, so it was an opportunity for me to develop that connection with them and to the university," Spangler said. “[Traditions] are about connecting with so many other countless generations of people who've done it before you. It's about building up a community, and you're doing it for the person next to you."