From the outside, A&M may not look much different than it did five years ago. But dig a little deeper and you'll find a university that has changed.
There are obvious difference, like the indefinite suspension of bonfire.
Also, the departure of President Ray Bowen whose character and compassion led the university during those dark days. But to get a feel for the real changes at A&M, you have to talk to the people of A&M. People like former football coach R-C Slocum.
To refresh your memory, Slocum was getting ready to lead his team against nationally-ranked arch-rival Texas when stack fell. While most coaches would try to shield their players from such a emotional distraction, Slocum cancelled practice so Aggie players could help students move logs. Looking back, Slocum recalls, "Considering the tragedy that had befallen this campus and all the people involved and the focus...the game is such a distant, distant second to the realities of dealing with these other issues."
All Aggies remember the outcome of the game...A&M 20 -- U.T. 16. But Slocum remembers something else: a change in attitude. "Football is a game. And that week it was so dramatically pointed out you can get excited and this is a big thing within the scope of games it's a big thing. In the overall picture of life it's not really that big a thing," Slocum said.
University Relations Executive Director Cindy Lawson was new to Aggieland when bonfire fell. The veteran communicator found herself thrust into the middle of a media circus. But the experience shaped her professionally and personally. "You can prepare and prepare but there are so many things that go on in the midst of a tragedy like that that perhaps you haven't anticipated," said Lawson. "So you learn to think very quickly on your feet."
Lawson says one notable change over the last five years is the implementation of a university crisis communication plan. But a story she tells confirms the biggest transformations took place at a personal level.
The night of the collapse, an exhausted Lawson was thanking students for their vigil and prayers -- when she heard a voice. "It was pitch black and out of the darkness came a voice calling my name." Lawson remembers. "I turned around and it was a young man who I never saw because it was pitch black. And he said, 'But didn't you know we were praying for you?' And that brought me to my knees. And I think that was my moment of understanding the aggie spirit and aggie family and how very, very special this place was."
From the outside, you may not see many changes at A&M in five years.
But it's only because from the outside, you can't see the heart.