Texas A&M students turned out in force to bid farewell to their president. Robert Gates took to the steps of Rudder Tower for a brief but poignant moment to say "thank you" Friday. And those students said it right back.
Hundreds of Aggies gathered in the December cold for what could certainly be deemed a heartwarming experience, all for one man.
"President Gates is one of the presidents of the university that's on the caliber of Lawrence Sullivan Ross and James Earl Rudder," said Zara Perciful, who was among the many who attended the event. "He's done so many amazing things for the school."
"I'm a Regents scholar, and he's the one that instated the scholarship, the program into the university," said Rosa Hernandez. "Because of him, I'm here. He made my dream come true and made it a reality."
And the very real scene was almost dream-like, the President, his wife, his students, singing the Spirit of Aggieland as they have so many times before. But of course, this would be one of the last, a fact not lost on the emotional Gates.
"I can't tell you how much you all mean to me, and how big a part of my life you have become," Gates said, choking back tears. "I'll miss you forever."
"I've been watching him on TV all week and he'll just slide in some quick hints about A&M," said James Mulvey, an A&M yell leader who helped direct the crowd in song.
"He said that he bleeds maroon now, and so he became an Aggie when he came here," said Leslie Uptain of the letter Gates sent to the Aggie community. "I think that was incredible."
Becky Gates, Robert's wife, wasn't as short on words, including her relaying of a marriage promise:
"That it would never be dull," she joked, eliciting a big smile from her husband, "and he's overfulfilled the promise."
"I definitely want to support him and encourage him as he goes off to serve the country," said Jennifer Cobb.
And a final message to his students may have summed up his love for both Aggies and America.
"Thank you all for coming out tonight," he said. "I appreciate it more than you can ever know. Gig 'em, and beat the hell out of terrorism."
It was one-month ago Friday that Robert Gates was nominated to become Secretary of Defense, that a call to serve his country changed his life forever. In his letter to the Aggie community Thursday, he wrote, "never forget who we are and where we came from."
Robert Gates may not have come from Aggieland, but he leaves it a part of it forever.
Gates' last official acts as president will be the upcoming commencement ceremonies. He will become Secretary of Defense on December 18.
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