"We Need CPR and First-aid . . ."
"We need CPR and first-aid out at Bonfire!"
This was the shout that rang through the dormitories of the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets far past midnight on Nov. 18 in College Station, Texas.
That morning, and on through the week, 12 lives were claimed by the collapse of the Texas Aggie Bonfire, long before its lighting on Thanksgiving night before the annual football game with the University of Texas. The Bonfire is built by and for the student body, with thousands of students participating in its construction.
Instantaneously, the Corps rose to the shout and began to pull the injured and dying from the enormous structure, log by log, which would have been 40 feet tall when finished. Frantic phone calls of mothers to children and chaotic cries ruled the day.
One week after the tragedy, the emotion settled next to me on the couch in the home of a close friend. You see, my friend Chris lost a friend and a member of his squadron that day--Squadron 17.
We talked about all that transpired after he rose from his slumber, and he showed me pictures of himself and Texas A&M junior Jerry Self of Arlington, Texas, one of those lost that morning. We looked at the squadron on a trip to the State Capitol and at a military parade in College Station. Chris even had his arm around Jerry in a picture or two. Jerry was not assigned to work that night, but he volunteered to build long into the morning.
Then my friend showed me an image that I will never forget--one less personal but far more effective in showing exactly what school spirit is about.
On the front page of The Battalion, the Texas A&M daily, there was a photograph of the rescue in progress; a young man was trapped between tons of logs, and one could clearly see that his legs were broken in several places, twisting in the most unnatural of directions.
But it wasn't the sight of his bodily injury that shocked me. It was the fact that he was directing rescuers to another individual trapped in the mass of wood beneath him, thinking of the life of another student in the midst of excruciating pain.
"All this for a football game, huh?" the pundits and talking heads wondered for the next few days. The losses were described as "senseless," and "in vain." A&M's Corps of Cadets (the largest ROTC unit in the United States) was described by Sports Illustrated as "a campus clique whose members shave their heads and wear military-style uniforms." The mass media dishonorably framed Bonfire as something akin to a fraternity prank.
But there is nothing "in vain" about Jerry Self's death; look around you, and you will notice why. Harvard has a lot to learn.
On your way to class today, observe the atomized "community" here at Harvard College. Look at that girl you see every day on the way to the Science Center who stares at the ground as if it were talking to her. You know the one I'm talking about. Or see if anyone holds the door open for you on the way into Sanders Theater.
The A&M/UT gameday lies somewhere on the Texas importance spectrum between one's wedding anniversary and Christmas. Gigantic flags fly from the homes of graduates as they watch the game from home or attend as one of the 86,000+ spectators. There is interest: a commodity that Harvard has been short on for a long time.
I will never expect to see the same kind of support for a Harvard-Yale football game anymore than you should expect me to come and see someone perform a chemistry experiment. We have different interests. Unfortunately, these interests are so diffuse that we often seem to be completely independent of each other. Some of this is our fault; however, some of it is not.
Who decided to have the parade for the parade for the women's ice hockey national championship team in the middle of the day when almost every student is in class? And where is our Student Center?
Something clicked today when I was trying to figure out why Texas A&M functions so differently from our university. Put simply, it's because "stuff" matters to them. They go to concerts. They go to Bonfire. They support their athletic teams. Their faculty generates interest in campus events, and they mourn with their students.
I can only hope upon hope that we would react with the same outpouring should 12 of our students die in such a calamity (For you math wizards, that's one out of every 500 of our students. A&M has around 46,000). Surely we would not make a sad face and retire back to our fast-as-hell internet connection.
For those of you who participated in the Rally for a Living Wage this month, you get big kudos. This is not because I agree one lick with what you're saying, but because you cared enough to do something. Harvard's 1969 protest mentality will never die.
We will learn just what the Aggie Bonfire was about when we can get our entire student body together to do something other than complain. If you want to find out for yourself, go to a basketball game in the Cage this week, go see the Kroks sing their hearts out, or go see an incredibly pretentious lecture.
Jerry Self did not die in vain. Too many of us are living in vain. Maybe we're the ones that need CPR.
Gig 'em, Ags.