Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The mystique of Aggie Spirit

The mystique of Aggie Spirit

By Sakura Honda
The Daily Magi
September 7, 2050


Current and former students at Texas A&M University, nicknamed Aggies after the school's agricultural roots, are known for their loyalty and respect for their alma mater. They cultivate "the Aggie Spirit" through "an almost religious devotion to the traditions" of the school, some over 100 years old. As Texas Monthly noted, "Every Aggie is a self-appointed guardian of the Aggie spirit, eternally on the alert for signs of slippage." To Aggies, Texas A&M is "not just a university but a...family,...defined and united by a unique culture." The school song is titled The Spirit of Aggieland, and proclaims in its first verse that the "spirit can ne'er be told."

The Texas A&M culture is a product of the university's founding as a rural military and agricultural school. Although the school and surrounding community have grown, and military training is no longer required, the school's history has instilled in students "the idealized elements of a small-town life: community, tradition, loyalty, optimism, and unabashed sentimentality." This respect for Aggie traditions and values is the university's greatest strength.

Many of these traditions are part of what Aggies call "The Other Education", activities designed to make students well-rounded and "moral, ethical people". Students who attend Texas A&M feel "that they receive 'more' from Texas A&M than just the knowledge one acquires from the formal classroom and books." Freshmen are introduced to these traditions and to the Aggie spirit at Fish Camp, a four-day extended orientation retreat held during the summer. Current students organize and run Fish Camp, leading sessions on the Aggie Spirit, school yells, and other school traditions so that new students can "begin the process of feeling part of the extended Aggie family." Fish Camp began in 1954 as a simple camping trip involving several new students and Gordon Gay, a former Student Activities director. The program has since evolved to accommodate approximately 70% of incoming freshmen; over 5,600 Texas A&M students attended in 2008. The program has been emulated by several schools, including Virginia Tech. In 1987, Texas A&M established a parallel orientation for summer and fall transfer students called Transfer Camp, or T-Camp. Howdy Camp also serves as a campus orientation program. Modeled after T-Camp and Fish Camp, it is intended for freshman and transfer students who enter A&M in the spring semester. Students who choose not to participate in The Other Education are known on campus as "2 Percenters," because going to class is only a small portion of experiencing Texas A&M.

Many incoming students at Texas A&M choose to attend the campus because they feel that the students are friendlier than those at other universities. This perception is created partly by the Aggie tradition "Howdy", the official greeting of Texas A&M University. Students are encouraged to greet everyone they pass on campus with a smile and a howdy. Howdy is the preferred method for a speaker to get a large group's attention, as the members of the group are expected to return the "Howdy" back to the speaker.

Rather than end a conversation with "goodbye", many conversations between Aggies end with "gig 'em", usually accompanied by a thumbs up. This tradition began at a 1930 Midnight Yell Practice held before the football game against the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. In an attempt to excite the crowd, Pinky Downs, a 1906 Texas A&M graduate and member of the school's Board of Regents, asked "What are we going to do to those Horned Frogs?" Using a term for frog hunting, he answered his own question, "Gig 'em, Aggies!" For emphasis, he made a fist with the thumb extended. The phrase and hand signal proved popular, and it became the first hand sign of the Southwest Conference. Gig 'em is also the name of one of the school yells, which is used during football kickoffs.

The university's traditions council recognizes another possible origin for the expression. The word "gig" is used in the US Army to indicate an infraction of the uniform code, and the A&M cadets used the same vocabulary. New cadets would quickly learn to fear being "gigged" during inspection for having unshined shoes, unpolished brass, or a non-aligned "gig line".

The most visible way for graduates of Texas A&M to recognize each other is by the Aggie Ring. The Aggie Ring is worn by current and former students, and may be used to distinguish seniors from other students on campus. The first Aggie Ring was designed by E. C. Jonas in 1894, and the design has remained relatively unchanged since; the only major change came when the school's name was changed from the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas in 1963.

The Aggie Ring cannot be purchased unless specific requirements are met: a current student must be in good standing with a minimum 2.00 GPA on a 4.00 scale. In addition, the student must have completed 90 hours of coursework, including at least 45 hours at A&M. Graduate students may receive a ring after 75% of their graduate coursework is completed or after the acceptance of their dissertation or thesis. A ring may be purchased upon graduation if a student, either undergraduate or graduate, did not meet these criteria while pursuing the degree.

Traditionally, students wear their rings with the class year facing them to signify the fact that their time at A&M is not yet complete. At the annual Ring Dance, or at the end of the student's collegiate career, the student turns his ring around so that the class year faces away, symbolizing readiness to "face the world."

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