During the month of June, BON authors will memorialize the final days of the UT-A&M rivalry through a series of perspectives, as seen through The Eyes of Texas, to include essays, personal reflections and commemorations of significant note.
On October 31, 1994 my father came home from work, walked into the kitchen, and announced he had something to tell us. He had been transferred to Beaumont, Texas. I was a senior at a high school outside of Buffalo, New York. My parents decided that my mother, brother, and I would remain in New York until the end of the school year. We would relocate after the year was over and I had graduated.
At that point, I had settled on attending the University of Dayton, a tiny Catholic university in Dayton, Ohio. I can't remember why I wanted to go to Dayton, other than they offered me a lot of scholarship money, and had my chosen major. Perhaps the prospect of learning calculus from a priest intrigued me. With the move to Texas, it made sense for me to consider going to college in the state of Texas. Rice's tuition was impractically high, but the state universities in Texas were cheap. And unlike the state schools in New York, the universities in Texas weren't crappy commuter campuses -- they were real universities.
And so, in the spring of 1995 I boarded an airplane, met my father at the Houston airport, and set off on a three day drive to visit the campuses of Texas A&M and The University of Texas.
When I was three years old my mother, father, newborn brother, and I moved from Akron, Ohio to Beaumont, Texas. After a stint there, and another in Houston, we moved when I was ten to the suburbs of Buffalo. So Texas, and Texas culture, wasn't entirely foreign to me. But I didn't grow up knowing Aggies and their ways. Texans often take Aggie silliness for granted. Natives grow up with this silliness, rather than happening upon it all at once. I happened upon it all at once. I was not prepared.
Our trip first took us to in College Station, Texas. When you first hear the name, College Station sounds a lot like State College, PA. "College" is the critical word in the names of these two towns. It almost makes them seem the same. Further confusing matters, both are small university towns in rural settings. I had already visited Penn State, and the differences between these towns seemed stark. State College is a pretty town, and College Station is an ugly hell hole.
I knew Texas A&M had this group of students who participated in a quasi-military organization, but when I was first confronted by them, I found it startling. I know this is far from an original statement, but for those of you unfamiliar with the uniform of the Hitler youth, the Aggie Cadets come very close to achieving this look. Tan uniforms and heavy boots, it felt like the end of the Weimar Republic. On my tour I learned that Corp members had to wait until they were a senior before they earned their jackboots. It is good that they wait; with great power comes great responsibility.
It is hard to overemphasize the strangeness of the Aggie Corp of Cadets. The Wikipedia page that covers this organization is worth reading, if only for the table that describes the uniforms. White cotton gloves are only worn "for formal functions." And when wearing these gloves a "rubberized gripping surface on the outer surface of the palms are authorized only for those carrying sabres, guidons, flags, or bugles." I will be honest, I had to look up the word guidon. It is a little flag.
I learned that the Aggie marching band was composed only of Corp members. (I crossed band participation off my list.) And then they showed me videos of the band goose-stepping up and down the field during football games, while the crowd cheered them on. This was a scene that was just too weird for description. They say it sends chills down your spine -- it seemed more like shivers.
The campus tour I received at Texas A&M was largely a description of all of the strange and esoteric traditions of the university. Every once in a while, the tour guide would point out a dorm or a library. I was struck by the placement of these traditions at the center of life; they were so important that they were the first thing you were told about upon visiting the campus. When examining these traditions it is really the little touches that make all the difference, and it is their devotion to these little touches that show that the Aggies are truly batshit crazy. My favorite little touch has to do with the Aggie clock tower. For those unaware, the clock tower on the Texas A&M campus uses Roman numerals. But to represent the number four on the face of the clock, they use "IIII" instead of "IV." Apparently, the letters "I" and "V" look too much like the letters "T" and "U" to some Aggies. It is my hope that Aggie physicians do not share this hang up.
(And let's unwind that a little bit. Do the letters "I" and "V" really look like "T" and "U?" This is normally the sort of connection that is only made by schizophrenics.)
At the end of the day, I was concerned. Maybe studying in Texas wasn't right for me. Dayton wasn't too far; there were direct flights that ran between Dayton and Houston. I was looking for a place to get an education, not a membership in a cult. The next day -- the day in Austin -- changed my mind. Texas was going to be alright. The University of Texas was the right fit. It was made for those of us who came from other parts of the country. We arrived, and suddenly we were Texans.
When I was young, maybe seven years old, my family took a trip to Austin, Texas. As a part of that trip, we visited The University of Texas. The scale of the place, and the size of the university, made my mother uncomfortable. It probably reminded her of her time as a freshman at Ohio State, where she felt overwhelmed and lost at such a large school. At some point while on the UT campus, my mother looked at my brother and I and told us that we would never go to school at The University of Texas. She never made a remotely similar comment about any other university.
My brother and I both attended and graduated from The University of Texas. Not as an act of rebellion against my mother, but because on a spring day in 1995 I found a place that was right for me.