Wednesday, November 18, 2009

10 years

I was a freshman in 1999. I was over 1500 miles from home, at a school that had a lot of spirit and a lot of school-spirited traditions.

One of these was the Aggie Bonfire, built over the course of the fall semester each year for what was essentially a 70,000 person pep rally prior to the annual Texas A&M/UT football game.
I never saw it burn, as the 1999 Bonfire collapsed a week prior to Burn while being built, killing 12 students and injuring at least 27 more. I can't succinctly explain what happened on campus in the weeks and months that followed, how the climate changed over the next few years (hello, Risk Management), how the on-campus culture was completely different from my freshman year to my last year as an RA several years later. I wish I could; I am sure it would make a fabulous case study.

What I can tell you is I can't believe it has been ten years. I am glad that there is a student led Bonfire now (from what I gathered on my FB news feed), and that the tradition has continued, modified as it is. At a school where tradition dictates which patches of grass you can and cannot walk on, losing Bonfire all together would be another tragedy. I am kind of sad that the website that used to have a camera watching Build now has links to the annual ceremonies - I wonder how long these will happen, and if it makes sense - and to posters of the (ugly) memorial and remembrance teeshirts (what?).

But I am perhaps most overwhelmed with perspective. At 18, I didn't grasp the outcry for why the University didn't oversee the project more, why wasn't the structure certified by PEs, why, why, why? At 18, I agreed with the arguement it was built by smart students who learned how to safely build from their predecessors. That they would do anything to keep the tradition alive. After all, they were outside at 2:43 am building it. That's dedication, right?

But at 28, I have perspective, perhaps parental perspective without the overwhelming love of parents. As a university administrator and a sports team administator, those questions of Why are really clear. Why WASN'T the University more involved? Alumni politics? A preferance for a blind eye? I am not sure. But when I think about the 12 kids - kids, really - that died, it is heart breaking. Most of them, 8 I think, were freshman. 3 lived in the dorm where I was an RA for the following 3 years. Without even being among their friends, I can tell you with the utmost confidence what an impact on their friends and roommates and others those three, and their deaths, had. There is still a memorial at that dorm. I hope it stands long after the building (already a bit old and crumbly 10 years ago, thanks to shoddy 1960s we-need-space construction).

It occured to me in class yesterday, when the topic came up in passing, that if it were to happen here, today, it could be my kids. Not my literal kids, as I certainly don't have college aged children, but the kids at work or the kids I coach or the kids on the all star teams I work with. And that breaks my heart. I cannot imagine what it was like for the parents of those who died, how any parent survives losing a child. The thought something happenning to my college kids, the thought of the mortality of my little 18 and 20 year olds, who are so innocent, so full of life and promise, literally brings me to tears.

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