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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Burning in exile

Morgan Lynn, a freshman nuclear engineering major, has never seen Bonfire burn, on or off campus.
“Honestly, I don’t know anything about it,” Lynn said. “I just know that it is important. The first time I heard about Bonfire was when it collapsed.”
Lynn is not the only student whose knowledge about Aggie Bonfire is limited to news stories and old photographs. As the annual University of Texas game approaches, there are students who still demonstrate their desire to beat our archrivals by building a bonfire, but there are also those who seem to be losing their connection with the tradition.
On Saturday, the Student Bonfire organization will burn the third off-campus bonfire since the collapse of the Aggie Bonfire in 1999. Although the event still brings out thousands of spectators each year, it is definitely scaled down from on-campus bonfires of the past, said Paul Harding, a senior animal science major and one of the leaders of Student Bonfire, a group started in 2002 by students who had experience with previous bonfires. Student Bonfire tries to help correct the apathy among students, he said.
“The students saw how much the on-campus life had degraded since Bonfire stopped burning,” Harding said. “They decided they needed to start something up (to fix that).”
Their initiative led to two successful off-campus bonfires in the past two years. This year, there have been around 700 participants helping to build a third, with the majority of students coming from the Northside residence halls, Harding said.
Adam Duke, a junior industrial distribution major, worked on the first off-campus bonfire in 2002.
“You can never truly appreciate it until you know what it takes to build it,” Duke said.
Duke still considers the off-campus bonfire an Aggie tradition, although part of the spirit of past Bonfires is missing.
“It should still be considered Aggie Bonfire because it’s about who builds it and what it means to them,” Duke said. “That is what makes it Aggie Bonfire and not just a bunch of wood burning in a field. You don’t get the whole spirit of it, though, because the band and the yell leaders aren’t there, it’s not the same.”
Lynn plans to see bonfire burn this year to experience the tradition.
“Of course I think it’s a tradition,” Lynn said. “Not all traditions have to take place where they originated from.”
Robyn Gomez, a senior biology major, has never gone to an off-campus bonfire.
“I haven’t felt a connection …with any of that,” Gomez said. “It could be because I never saw an original one, and I don’t understand what it means to people.”
The Bonfire Coalition for Students is also trying to keep the tradition alive, and is trying to reach students who have never learned about the meaning behind the tradition and how it is connected to A&M.
“It really goes back to the older students passing on their knowledge to each incoming class,” said Cynthia Downey, a senior agricultural development major and vice-chair of the organization.
The Bonfire Coalition for Students is not affiliated with Student Bonfire and works to bring the tradition back on campus, Downey said.
“There are so many people who care about Bonfire,” she said, “but if we are working to get it back on campus, we need to work with the administration.”
Downey believes there is a definite difference between the classes who worked on Bonfire and those who entered A&M after it fell in 1999.
“There was a unity on campus,” she said. “Bonfire was really the center pole of different traditions and helped educate the new classes about what it meant to be an Aggie. It made the Aggie values we talk about much more tangible.”
Student Bonfire, unlike the Bonfire Coalition for Students, is not recognized by the University, but Harding said he understands it is hard for the administration to take a stand on the issue.
“It does bother me that some people actively don’t support us,” Harding said. “We are doing it for the Aggie tradition and spirit.”
Harding said that even though the bonfire has been moved off campus, it is still the same tradition as before.
“We had a Bonfire victim who was injured in 1999 come out to work on the stack,” he said. “And he said to never let anyone tell us it’s not Aggie Bonfire that we’re working on.”
As for the students who are unsure about what exactly Bonfire entails, Harding invites everyone to watch bonfire burn.
“It’s hard to judge unless you actually come out there,” Harding said.
This year, the off-campus bonfire will bur at 9:05 p.m. on Hot Rod Hill at 856 Marino Rd. in Bryan. Student Bonfire is working to have a shuttle run from Post Oak Mall but encourages parking on-site.
Student Bonfire projects between 10,000 and 12,000 people in attendance this year. There will be a $5 charge per person and $10 per vehicle parking on-site. For more information, see www.studentbonfire.com.

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