Student Bonfire

Aggie Bonfire is still alive and well despite the many things that have changed over the years, but the one thing that hasn't changed is how much Aggies care about it.

As the Aggie family gathers to remember the 1999 collapse of Bonfire on Nov. 18, Student Bonfire works to keep the most widely recognized tradition of Texas A&M aflame.

Student Bonfire is an opportunity for students to build and burn “the stack,” memorializing the 12 Aggies lost in the tragic collapse. Though following the tradition has evolved, to ensure safety of students and staff involved, the burning Spirit of Aggieland has never been extinguished.

Recreation, parks and tourism sciences senior and “brownpot” Connor Lloyd said his first introduction to the organization was through his unit, Squadron 16, in the Corps of Cadets.

“One of the victims of the collapse, Timothy Kerlee, was from Squadron 16,” Lloyd said. “[Squadron 16] goes heavily into what Bonfire is and why it still happens. I got into [Bonfire] with all my buddies at the time, and then it just kind of grew from there as I got to know more.”

Bonfire Remembrance is extremely special to both Student Bonfire and himself personally, Lloyd said, especially because of his time spent with the Kerlee family.

“A lot of things that we do out here, we do in memory of the 12,” Lloyd said. “From what I know of those people, I feel like they would still want the tradition to keep going. I stayed with Tim’s parents over the summer of 2020. From what I know about Tim from his family, I feel like he would have wanted [Bonfire] to keep going. The people who passed away in the tragedy cared about it a lot. That’s why they were there at 2:42 in the morning.”

Oceanography senior and “senior redpot” Christopher Crain said attending Bonfire Remembrance on campus is extremely important to the organization.

“We take Bonfire Remembrance very seriously, so no work gets done [on the night of the memorial],” Crain said. “Nothing is going to get touched. Everybody here goes to the remembrance, and we don’t bring anything Bonfire-related. It’s not about us. It’s not about what we’re currently doing. It’s about the 12 who passed away, and we take that very seriously.”

After the collapse, Student Bonfire continues the mission of honoring the memory of the 12 through building and burning the stack: a giant assembly of logs.

Bonfire first started in 1907, and many second-generation Aggies, such as wildlife and fisheries sciences senior Jordan Berry, have a family history of participation. Berry said when she started at A&M, she wanted to see what her mom remembered fondly.

“My mom was in Bonfire. She’s Class of ‘92,” Berry said. “I thought it was one of the core traditions of A&M because it was one of the founding memories my mom had coming here. I thought I might as well give it a shot and see what she loves so much. I haven’t missed a day since.”

Lloyd said working on Bonfire throughout his time at A&M has created many friendships and a spirit of community.

“My favorite thing about [Student Bonfire] would be the camaraderie,” Lloyd said. “Throughout all the different activities that we have, whether it be cut or load or stack, you get to know the people that you’re around because you’re working with them all the time. The friendships that I’ve made out here are definitely my favorite part.”

Berry said the bonds she made through the organization have supported her and are of great importance for incoming students.

“It’s a family. There’s some people here that if I leave, and I’m three hours away and I had a popped tire, they would drive those three hours for me,” Berry said. “It definitely is a close family, especially for freshmen that left their real family to go experience their own life. Now they have this core group of people that would do anything for them. That’s super important.”

Crain said students with an interest in learning more about Bonfire are invited to reach out and help continue building the tradition.

“Even if you come out here for a single day … you can say that you helped build Bonfire,” Crain said. “You don’t have to be out here 24/7 to be able to be a part of the tradition and at least get a taste of what it was [originally] and get to experience what it is now.”

Berry said being a part of this community of hard work, and seeing what it can accomplish together, is what has made Student Bonfire special.

“If you have free time, you have all these people you just truly love and are there for you, and you’re there for them,” Berry said. “You’re able to go out and build something fantastic and see the progression of your hard work. You can see how the land changes, and then [at stack], you can see all of the work you put into it once it’s finally built. It’s really fun to watch it change over time. Then, you get to set it on fire.”

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