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

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

The Battalion

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Texas A&M catcher Jackson Appel (20) makes contact with a ball for a double during Texas A&M’s game against Tennessee at the NCAA Men’s College World Series finals at Charles Schwab Field in Omaha, Nebraska on Saturday, June 22, 2024. (Hannah Harrison/The Battalion)
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Chancellor John Sharp during a Board of Regents meeting discussing the appointmet of interim dean Mark Welsh and discussion of a McElroy settlement on Sunday, July 30, 2023 in the Memorial Student Center.
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Gone, but not forgotten

 
 

For freshman chemical engineering major Harlan Holt and freshman mechanical engineering major Robert Sanders, the 170-foot diameter of the Bonfire Memorial, taken from measurements of an actual Bonfire stack, serves as a visual depiction of what Bonfire once looked like. Though the two were in junior high when the 59-foot tall stack of more than 5,000 logs came tumbling down, they are moved by the monument honoring the 12 victims and 27 others injured in the 1999 collapse.
“It’s very passionate,” Sanders said.
With the exception of a handful of individuals lucky enough to attend a Bonfire in years past with an older sibling or parent, an increasing percentage of the student body has never been a direct part of one of Texas A&M’s most recognizable traditions. The five-year gap since the halt of the 90-year-old custom has distanced the student body from an activity that was, at one time, entirely a product of it, some say.
“Hopefully the memorial can show how much went into Bonfire and what it brought to this campus,” said Jason Schriebb of the Bonfire Memorial Dedication Student Advisory Committee. “Hopefully it will inspire a lot of learning.”
The Memorial is a testament to the tradition of Bonfire and the victims of its collapse, and is overflowing with symbolism: Visitors entering the Memorial are immediately greeted with a quote from “The Spirit of Aggieland” on an exterior wall of Tradition Plaza. As spectators pass the wall, they are physically separated from the outside and enter the somber experience of the memorial. The History Walk, a subtle tribute to Bonfires past, features 89 granite stones that represent 89 previous Bonfires (two missing stones represent the year 1963, when the Aggie Bonfire did not burn in honor of the death of President John Kennedy and the year 1999, when Bonfire collapsed). History Walk leads to the 27 segments of Spirit Ring and its 12 portals devoted to the 12 fallen students.
Overland Partners, Inc., the architectural firm behind the design and construction the Bonfire Memorial, developed a concept to remember the Bonfire victims through vivid personalization. Each portal includes a portrait, signature and inscription collaborated by friends and family of one of the 12 – Michael Ebanks’ portal describes the flip-flops he wore to class everyday. Jeremy Frampton’s poetry is included. Lucas Kimmel poses with his dog, Maverick.
“The inscriptions are so personal,” said Corey Fuller, a junior human resource development major. “You don’t really understand (the tragedy), but when you are here, it brings you a lot closer to it.”
The idea is to show how students are known by name, face and reputation, said Wynn Rosser, co-chairman of the Bonfire Memorial Committee.
The involvement of people who knew the victims allows the monument to convey a high level of personality. Friends and family were given the opportunity to voice what they did and did not want to see in the Memorial, said Abby Howell, the student advocate for Bonfire Legacy and Continuance.
“These aren’t students in textbooks or people with buildings named after them,” Fuller said. “I can’t help but wonder what would be carved for me.”
Though Schriebb realizes many students may not be directly familiar with the tradition of Bonfire, he thinks the dedication ceremony will be impacting.
“It should be an eye-opening experience,” Schriebb said.
Many people are going to come and learn about Bonfire, but others are going to come to the Memorial and be taken back to their own memories of the tradition, Schriebb said.
The Dedication Ceremony will mix the student body with individuals directly involved with Bonfire and the 1999 tragedy. The mixing of tears and reflection will help current students as well as future students to see the impact the tradition had and continues to have on many.
“It’s obviously something they cared a lot about,” Holt said.
The long-awaited dedication ceremony may help to further educate those unfamiliar with Bonfire by inspiring a crowd of similar proportions. A mix of former and present students are expected to attend. Though an exact number is difficult to estimate, Howell said a gathering similar to the size on hand to witness a burning is certainly possible.
While groups gather to view the Memorial, in the midst of Aggies from far and wide, individuals will be given the opportunity to reflect on a presence that some claim burns just as brightly today as it did five years ago: the Aggie spirit.
“It’s important to see that we’re surrounded by people like those twelve everyday,” Rosser said.

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