Rep. Will Hurd watched the Leonid meteor shower with a group of friends on a chilly November night in 1999 before going to bed around 2 a.m. Less than an hour later, a phone call told him the news — Bonfire had collapsed, and he needed to hurry to the polo fields.
Twelve students died and 27 were injured that morning in the 1999 Bonfire Collapse. For Hurd, Class of 1999 and student body president during the collapse, the following days and weeks would define his campus legacy and follow him for the rest of his life. Sixteen years later, Hurd returns to the campus he once helped lead through its greatest tragedy as the 2015 Muster speaker.
Tradition and tragedy
After a friend’s phone call woke him up on the morning of the Collapse, Hurd headed to the polo fields. He said nothing could have prepared him for Stack as it was after the collapse.
“I was not prepared for the scene,” Hurd said. “It looked like a scene out of a movie — just complete chaos. Immediately we thought, ‘What’s happening and what can we do to help?’”
Hurd said the next days were spent reacting to the tragedy.
“The next day was about helping coordinate student involvement in moving the various logs and debris, talking to the media; it was working with different groups in doing the memorial, and making sure people knew what was going on,” Hurd said.
That calm resolution in the face of tragedy is a characteristic of Hurd, who went on to work undercover for the Central Intelligence Agency before being elected to Congress last year.
Hurd said he sees a special connection between his experience with the collapse and the Muster ceremony, at which he will speak Tuesday.
“For all of us that were involved in the Bonfire Collapse this is something that is going to stick with us for the rest of our lives,” Hurd said.
While he said that he appreciates the leadership lessons that can be understood from the Bonfire Collapse, he would give it all up to see the Stack never fall.
“I would give up all of those lessons if those 12 kids were still alive,” Hurd said.
A life of service
Hurd was a computer science major at Texas A&M and planned to join a technology company after graduation, but was instead inspired by a professor and his sense of duty to join the CIA. For the next 10 years Hurd served as an undercover agent working in war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Hurd said he decided to run for office in 2009 after he became jaded with the political leadership of the country.
“I ran because I was pretty shocked at the caliber of our elected leaders,” Hurd said. “I thought you either have to be part of the problem or part of the solution, so I left a job that I was good at and loved to run for Congress because I thought I could do a better job.”
He did not win. With no backup plan Hurd started a cybersecurity firm, FusionX, but his sense of duty and leadership soon called him to run for office again in 2014. He was successful this time and became the representative of Texas’s 23rd congressional district.
“[Leadership] is empowering the people that work with you to give them the abilities, give them a vision and let them run with the execution,” Hurd said.
While his speech at Muster will focus on honoring those Aggies who have died in the past year, Hurd said he feels honored to be called back to speak at the ceremony.
“I think there is no higher honor for an Aggie than to come back to campus and speak at Muster,” Hurd said. “I’m usually an extemporaneous speaker, but I’ve spent a lot of time obsessing over what I’m going to say Tuesday because it’s such a big deal.”
Chelsea Potter, communication senior and Muster executive, said Hurd was chosen as 2015 Muster speaker because of his dedication to Texas A&M.
“He was really involved when he was a student here — he was the president of the student body during the Bonfire collapse, and everybody I talked to that was here while that happened said he was put under a lot of pressure during that time. All eyes were kind of on him and he just really stepped up to the plate and was a really good face for A&M and a really good student body president during this really difficult time,” Potter said.
The Muster ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Reed Arena.