Remarks by Jerry Ebanks – Bonfire Memorial Dedication
Remarks by Mr. Jerry Ebanks
Father of Michael Ebanks
Representing Parents of the Deceased Students
Bonfire Memorial Dedication Ceremony
November 18, 2004
Good afternoon, and God bless all of you for being here. I’m humbled by the privilege of speaking to you on behalf of these twelve families at this celebration, a celebration of these twelve lives and the Aggie spirit, and being able to share with you some of our thoughts and emotions. Please bear with me if I have some difficult moments.
We are honored that you would share this day with us as we all have come together here at the dedication of this memorial to continue our tribute to twelve of the finest young adults there ever were. We’ve heard their names many times, but let’s listen to them once more:
Tim Kerlee, Jr.
When you learn who these youngsters were, you have learned much. You learn what great potential their futures held. You learn that they exhibited not only brainpower; but more importantly, they possessed a tremendous amount of what I like to call “people power.” How fortunate we all were to have known them and to have had them as part of our lives.
None of us can understand why these young people were taken from us; life often doesn’t make sense because we can’t see the big picture. But we’re confident that God has welcomed them home to Himself, and their deaths can have meaning if we learn from the way they lived their lives. Perhaps this can be understood better in the words of Dr. Lee Lowery, a Texas A&M Civil Engineering professor: “You will find, when you die, that that part of yourself which you gave to others does not die with you.” Indeed, these twelve gave a lot to all of us.
And let us not forget that there are 27 others who were physically injured, but by the grace of God, still are here with us today. We simply don’t know how many were emotionally injured who still are trying to cope with the tragedy.
The Bonfire collapse five years ago was an event that garnered the attention of not only Texas A&M and College Station, but also this entire state, the nation, and indeed, much of the world, in a way like few other events have done. The shocking reality of the loss of these twelve, who were deeply involved in a “fun” pursuit, was hard to comprehend; and it still is. They all were hard at work on a project that would build camaraderie and loyalty, the strength of which is hard for others to understand.
Over the past five years we families of these twelve victims have endured some very difficult and sad times. However, we also realize that we aren’t the only ones who have had to deal with this very difficult situation. If my own experience is typical, and I’m sure it is, then we’ve found that there are many, many others who have mourned almost as deeply as we have. There are our own friends and our family members outside of the immediate family. There are friends from every association these youngsters ever had, including, of course, their time here at Texas A & M. For a few of them that time was tragically short. And there are countless others who never knew any of these twelve, or any of us, but who were touched deeply enough to come forward and express their own sympathy anyway in the best way that they knew how.
Being an “adopted” part of this huge Texas Aggie family definitely has been a source of great comfort and support for all our families. The depth of this love and support has been at once both greatly uplifting and very humbling.
Constructing and dedicating this memorial is something we humans have to do; it’s human nature to commemorate both tragedies and joyful times in our lives. Although the hurt from the loss of these twelve will dim with the passage of time, it lingers still; and it will not go away just because we’re gathered here today to pay our respects to these twelve once again. Yet, at the same time, I’m confident that none of us would consider our presence here to be in vain.
The entry plaza of the memorial tells of the tradition of Bonfire, a tradition that is both strong and deep, as any who have been a part of it will tell you. It is this tradition that drew these twelve here, along with all the rest. The long walkway lays out for you the 90-year history of this great tradition up to November 18, 1999. Now the circle will forever hold and share for all the memory of each of these twelve. We can enter each and every portal and see and learn just who these youngsters were. Their souls and bodies are not here, but the spirit they all shared is very much here. This will be a place for solace, for meditation, and for remembering.
Every family member here still struggles often; we can’t deny that. But we want to leave you with one main thought. The beauty of these twelve and all that they were, combined with the love, support, and caring that has been bestowed on all of us, should convince you that God still has created a beautiful world.