In a scenario uniquely familiar to the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets, university president Michael Young explained Wednesday to alumni why the shiny, newly unveiled multi-million-dollar renovations to the Corps of Cadets' corner of campus were not something to be upset over.
"You'll see at as we walk through -- you'll be enormously disappointed as we walk through, because you'll think they [cadets] aren't going to be tough enough and that all of the important things about 'Old Army' are dead," Young said before launching into an explanation of how the cadets in the dining hall with him were living proof of the program's success.
The short speech came at the ceremonial grand opening of the Quad, the area of Texas A&M that houses the Corps of Cadets, after what officials say was the largest renovation since it was first built in 1939.
Over the course of six years, four study spaces dubbed Leadership Learning Centers popped up; a Starbucks opened; dorm interiors and exteriors were redone; and the grassy exterior was replaced with pavement, benches, better lighting and landscaping.
For the A&M leadership, formally introducing these changes Wednesday was equal parts about affirming the value of the program at the university, thanking everyone involved in the design and teasingly assuring those in attendance that the new facilities do not mean cadets will have a less rigorous experience.
In introducing it, Chancellor John Sharp quipped that "Old Army," or the concept of how the Corps was run in the past, "died every five years anyway" and shared a few of his personal experiences with the program.
He said joining the Corps was the best thing he ever did, and he only joined on accident after a his family picked up a hitchhiker who turned out to be a sophomore in the Corps. Sharp said he remembers as a high school student that the sophomore assured him it would be just like his sister's sorority.
He said he was disappointed when the Corps dissolved Squadron 6, the unit both he and United States Secretary of Energy Rick Perry were in together, and recited the reason the commandant of the Corps gave him at the time.
"He said, 'John, their grade point average and blood alcohol level are the same number,' " Sharp joked. "We bought them a few kegs, Perry and I, took them down to the Brazos River, and that was the end of that."
Jokes aside, Sharp said Texas A&M has a certain reputation for producing graduates companies want to hire, which he traces back to the Corps.
"Not that everyone is in it, but the Corps of Cadets is the keeper of the spirit, and all the other kids, they see that and they love it," he said, adding more succinctly later that, "the Corps mixes the Kool-Aid, and everybody drinks it."
Ret. Brig. Gen. Joe Ramirez, commandant of the Corps, said the renovations were overdue and will benefit generations of cadets to come.
"When I came back after 31 years, walking around campus, seeing all of the new developments, the new facilities, it was pretty impressive how my university had grown," he said. "Then I walked to the Quad -- it was like taking [a step] back in time."
Though the newly renovated dorms are still cramped and sparsely adorned, a cadet later leading a tour of the Quad recounted how his father, who attended Texas A&M in the 1990s, was shocked by the quality of the room.
Benjamin Knox, a local artist and business owner who started his business as a cadet in a dorm room in the 1990s, told the cadet that the room was what he "envisioned the Corps was going to be like."
Both Young and Ramirez emphasized the idea of creating a "21st-century learning environment."
Ramirez attributed the construction of each of the four leadership learning centers has contributed to the steady rise in the Corps' average GPA from 2.6 to 3.05.
He said the renovated Quad was fitting for the caliber of students at Texas A&M.
"Oh and by the way, yes, there is a Starbucks at the end. ... Old Army has died and gone to hell -- and we're pretty proud of it," he joked.