Editor’s note: These articles, written by Justin Mathers and Drew Chambers, respectively, originally appeared in and are reprinted with permission from The Battalion, Texas A&M’s student newspaper.
When the Memorial Student Center reopens April 21, the building and its traditions will be uncharted territory for many Aggies. Those students will quickly become acquainted with a loud and important command: “Get off the grass!”
The grass that surrounds the MSC is considered one of its most important legacies. It is a living memorial dedicated to all Aggies, past or future, who have given or will give their lives in wartime. In order to respect the 955 Aggie soldiers killed in the line of duty, Texas A&M tradition prohibits all Aggies from stepping on the grass that surrounds the building.
Following the closing of the MSC, a three-by-five foot section of the memorial grass was removed from the northeast corner of the lawn and transferred to the Bonfire Memorial where it will remain a symbolic reminder to students that the old grass will always be a part of Texas A&M University.
With the reopening just around the corner, students who only had a short-lived experience with the building are both looking forward and looking back. Brian McDonald, senior history major and Residence Hall Association president, fondly remembers his short time with the memorial grass.
“Although the MSC has been closed for much of my A&M career and the grass gone, I still remember that special turf,” McDonald said. “I remember the loud shouts of ‘Get off the grass!’ anytime anyone thought it was a good idea to venture off of the paved path. And I distinctly remember being deathly afraid to step on any grass anywhere my freshman year, fearing that I might get yelled at.”
The grass will again become off-limits with the reopening, and a formal ceremony to officially memorialize the grass is tentatively set to take place in the days following . The old grass, however, which was St. Augustine, will now be replaced with a different type known as Zoysia grass.
Luke Altendorf, MSC complex director, explained the significance of the ceremony and change of grass.
“When the ceremony takes place, what we’re intending to say is that the grass is back and once again is sacred ground,” Altendorf said. “And as for the grass change, we decided to switch to this type because it’s far more environmentally friendly and takes up much less water.”
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Across the country, citizens remove their hats for the national anthem, during prayers and for other special events. When entering the Memorial Student Center on April 21, students and visitors will have one more reason to “uncover” with the renewal of an old tradition.
Students began removing their hats when going inside the MSC as a sign of respect as early as the building’s opening in 1951, but it was only an unofficial tradition for several years.
In her book, “Building Leaders, Living Traditions,” Amy Bacon, Class of 1991 and vice president of development for the MSC, said visitors to campus were informed of the practice once it became an official tradition.
“An additional way to honor [Aggies who died in war] officially originated in 1953 with the adoption of the hats-off policy,” Bacon said. “Although many members of the student body instinctively removed their hats as they entered the MSC, visitors and guests did not always do so.”
In November 1953, the MSC Council made it a policy for men to remove their hats while inside the building. Organizations helped spread the word by passing out pamphlets.
Traditions may not be convenient, but there are reasons behind them. Former student Dimitri Caver, Class of 1990, said observing this tradition is an important sign of respect.
“It was burdensome sometimes, but I didn’t mind removing my hat,” Caver said. “I just remembered that it was a small token of honor and respect. I appreciated the ‘Memorial’ in MSC.”
Current students may have to learn — or relearn — MSC traditions after three years of construction, and it may take time to grow accustomed to traditions such as hats-off. Stefani Freemyer, freshman interdisciplinary studies major, said Aggies live for tradition and will gladly accept this one, as well.
“I love how the traditions unify the students,” Freemyer said. “I think it will take some time for students to relearn the traditions of the MSC. However, I know everyone will be dedicated to doing so. There won’t be any trouble merging in the hats-off tradition — we’re Aggies; we live for tradition.”
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