Student Bonfire has undergone its fair share of changes since the tragic collapse in 1999, but some things remain the same.
The logs are still constructed like a wedding cake, there is still an outhouse securely on top, even if it is LSU purple and gold, and the students who assemble the 32-foot-tall stack still get the same joy in bringing generations of students together the same way they have for more than 100 years.
Texas A&M University Senior and "Red Pot" Elek Nagy said it is humbling to see hundreds, sometimes thousands, of Aggies support the tradition that hasn't been officially sponsored or recognized by the university since 11 students and one former student died in the 1999 collapse. It is a point of pride for him to be surrounded by those who have worn the hard hats before him.
"What really makes me happy is seeing people come out who worked on it in the past," Nagy said. "It always brings a smile to my face."
According to Dion McInnis, member of the Student Bonfire Board of Directors, the current Student Bonfire, which operates as its own nonprofit entity, went from a small operation that required "panhandling" for donations to an event that draws crowds. It might not receive the same attention as the Texas A&M-sanctioned event on campus, which drew as many as 80,000 in some years, but it is still a reminder for older former students that their school is in good hands.
"The fact the support is growing from the outside tells me the former student body has a lot of faith in these students," McInnis said. "They know they can still find a home that is just like the one they left and the students have taken care of it for them."
Tonya Moczygemba graduated in 1981 and now has two students enrolled at Texas A&M. Tuesday night was her first time seeing the stack set ablaze since she graduated, and she said she would get emotional as soon as the fire started climbing.
"It's still just as big and beautiful," she said.
Guest speaker Brian Gamble, the linebacker who secured a fumble and sealed a win over the Longhorns in the game after the bonfire collapse, said the game changed the somber tone on campus. The memories stay with him 16 years later with the now-iconic photo of him kneeling on the field with his arms raised.
"We had to do that for the healing process to start," Gamble said. "That was the burden being lifted."
Although it brings back memories for former students who played a role in constructing the bonfire stack before the 1999 collapse and those who brought it back on their own accord separate from the university, it is the end of an era for this year's seniors.
"Burn is always a bittersweet moment because it's ending one year and the beginning of another, and it marks the last time I'll have a direct impact leadership-wise," Nagy said. "It was one of the best moments of my life to know all my hard work and efforts weren't in vain."