Aggie Culpa: The Aggie Files, Part 4
Chief among the things a guest must not do -- flood the bathroom, steal the booze, overstay his welcome -- is this: A guest must not insult his host. Is that what I was guilty of doing to Aggieland in my blog post yesterday?
I didn't think so when I wrote it. When I read some of the comments, I'm not so sure. "I'm sure you find us to be a bunch of rubes and ignoramuses, but you seem to have failed to notice that we are in the business of producing leaders and far surpassing others," writes one reader.
"Son, we use words like honor, code, loyalty...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent defending something. You use 'em as a punchline," writes another, borrowing Jack Nicholson's speech from A Few Good Men. "I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it!"
Someone on campus said, "I saw those bad things you wrote about Muster."
Uh-oh. Is that what I did?
I thought I was just describing Muster, the way an anthropologist might describe some hallowed South Seas tribal ritual. For the record, I think Muster is an incredibly moving event. I also think it is an incredibly unusual one. I don't mean unusual in a bad way. I mean unusual in a "this is something you're not going to see anywhere else"-way.
When I wrote that the version of Taps that is played -- known as "Silver Taps" -- was excruciatingly slow, I meant that in an almost ancient, literal sense. The word means "to crucify," and there are religious overtones to the somber celebration, along with something that borders on mortification: Celebrants stand during the Muster (as Aggies do during football games) and the subtext I detect is, "Pay attention; this is just a taste of what sacrifice is like."
I do regret saying that Aggies have an inferiority complex. That's not very scientific and it implies that I think that Aggies are underachievers. What I meant was, Aggies often act as if they have a lot to prove.
I was trying to make sense of why so many A&M traditions evolve from encounters with other universities. The most famous cow in College Station is Bevo, the University of Texas mascot. I was told that "Gig 'em," the Aggie slogan, came from what A&M was expected to do the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University. Aggies are overachievers. Why?
To say, "Because they're Aggies" doesn't really answer the question. Yes, it must be something about the university and the students it attracts. There is an esprit de Corps and an esprit de corps -- the former the military-styled student organization, the latter the sensibility that is first injected during the freshman gathering known as Fish Camp.
I realize that people reading this who have never set foot in Texas have no idea what I'm talking about, are wondering why I'm wasting so many pixels talking about Fish Camp, horned frogs and "Howdy." Aggies know. (God, that sounds like such an Aggie thing to say.)
What I mean is: Texas A&M is a different kind of place. It trades on its differentness. Personally, I think one of the consequences of trading on your differentness is not being surprised when the occasional person says, "Wow, you're different."
How you're different is an easy question to answer (See: Taps, Silver; Muster, Annual, etc.). Why you're different is not quite so easy. There's a saying in Aggieland: "From the outside in, you can't understand it. From the inside out, you can't explain it."
Frankly, that's a bit of a cop-out. I invite Aggies to try to explain it in the Comments section below.
Let me say that the students I've met during my brief week here have been unfailingly polite and engaged -- and devoted to their school. I've never seen a higher proportion of students decked out in the colors of their college. I went to the University of Maryland, and if there were any traditions there, they were successfully hidden from me for four years.
Finally, about that blanket of freedom: I'm thankful to sleep under it, though if I may be so bold, journalists have helped stitch together some occasional holes in the fabric.
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