As my freshman year comes to a close I feel like I’ve witnessed enough for an entire four years of school. Amongst other things, I got to see the Baylor football team take on the number one team in the nation that had a quarterback primed to win the Heisman and Baylor absolutely destroyed them and took away any possibility of the opposing player winning the coveted award. I got to see an up and down basketball team run the table in the NIT and bring home the first NIT championship in school history. There were a lot of glaring accomplishments I saw from Baylor and so much good that surrounded my freshman year, but with that, there were also the bad moments that will forever define it.
My parents always have told me that they remember exactly where they were when JFK got shot. Whether it was on the living room couch or doing work outside, they remember it perfectly. I remember my mom explaining to me the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers and how they were no longer there after we had been to New York and seen them just months earlier. That is a memory I won’t soon forget. Just like when I was sitting in my dorm room ready to go to the SLC and turned on ESPN to see that people had bombed the Boston Marathon. I enjoy running, have a lot of respect for people who run marathons, and know people who have competed in big time marathons so the fact that that event was bombed hit home for me. I remember seeing update after update come across on twitter about the manhunt that followed. I don’t follow a lot of world news outlets on my twitter either; there were just a lot of sports outlets covering the news in Boston, because, at the time, that is all that mattered. What came next hit way too close to where I call home roughly 9 months out of the year now.
I was sitting in my friend’s house in Big Aspen killing time waiting for my intramural softball game and watching Caddyshack when I got a call from my mom. My mom is the type to warn me even if there is a thunderstorm approaching, but this was much more. She informed me that a fertilizer plant had exploded in West and that shockwaves were recorded as far up as Dallas. I didn’t think much of this for some reason at first. I had a lot of other things on my mind, and was so very unaware of the severity of the explosion. I didn’t begin to understand the extent of what had happened until I started seeing more and more of what had happened. So many injured, so many affected, and reports of a growing death total. As I was playing softball all of a sudden we stopped play, because we heard a ton of sirens and speeding cars. Being in Waco and unaware of the situation, we assumed there was some type of car chase going on. What we thought was a car chase was a steady string of ambulances and police cars either going to West or from West on their way to Hillcrest Hospital. It took about a minute for all of the emergency vehicles to pass and the severity began to sink in of how real this really was.
I guess you could say I was in a state of disbelief or shock that something this tragic could happen so close to home for me. I tend to get most of my information off twitter, so my brother texted me to watch a video of the explosion he had retweeted from a news outlet. The first minute and a half was a burning building that had a steady flame coming out of it. The video seemed like it was being take a couple of miles away so it was hard to make out anything. Then, in an instant, there was a spark and a huge explosion that came all the way out to the person taking the video and shook the car. The building was leveled and the car began to speed away. Upon seeing this, my only reaction was a gasp and an OH SH**! Then it all hit me at once how severe the situation was. I showed everyone around me and they had the exact same reaction I did.
From here I scrolled through my timeline looking for any and all new information I could find about what was going on just 15 minutes up the road. The picture that sticks in my head that really caught how close everything was to where I am was the view of the smoke from the Czech Stop. I, like everyone else with a soul, love kolachies and love that town because of them and the friendly people that inhabit it. It was too close to home.
From there things started moving at what seemed like a thousand miles per hour. The next day was Dia del Oso and from there everything just seemed to keep snowballing about West; how to help, how to donate blood, how to give clothes, nonperishables, anything that could help the people of West. It kept turning into something bigger and then something bigger the next day until it was announced that a memorial service would be held in the Ferrell Center to honor the lives of those firemen that were lost in their fight to save people they probably had never before in their lives. Just when it couldn’t be any more of a big deal, it was announced that the president of the United States was flying down to talk about the memorial. Barrack Obama was literally going to be in my backyard.
In the moment it’s easy to overlook some things, but when I look back on it, it is unreal that the President came down to Waco to speak at the Memorial. I didn’t feel as if it was my place to go to be in the Ferrell Center at first when I had heard that it would be open to students. I felt there were other people that more rightfully so deserved to be in attendance than myself. That being said, I had heard that the line to go in had died down at about 11:30 and it was about that time that I decided to head over to the Ferrell Center to see what it was like around campus.
It was amazing to walk down University Parks and see just how many fire trucks had lined the streets in support. There were fire trucks from everywhere in Texas and they took up every lane, bumper to bumper, for at least a quarter mile. Also, right in the middle was one of the more patriotic and respectful things I believe I have ever seen. Above the fire trucks, just outside the Ferrell Center there were two fire trucks that had their ladders raised up and between two of them hung the American flag. It was truly a sight to be seen.
At this point I tried to see if there was any room left in the Ferrell Center and it was completely full. So after walking past the baseball and softball fields I decided to watch the service from the SLC. As I got there I began to hear helicopter blades above me. The president was arriving, and he and the rest of his crew were landing in the intramural fields just across the street from the Ferrell Center. It brings it full circle I guess. The intramural fields is where I saw all of the emergency vehicles go past, and now the intramural fields is where the president was landing. That’s still so crazy to me. He could literally be anywhere in the world, and he was in Waco, Texas just up the street from me.
I watched the memorial service from the lounge in the SLC just outside from the basketball courts and swimming pool. There were about 20 people spread out amongst the lounge watching with me. The remarks given by each speaker were great, and the final words from the families and/or friends of those lost just over a week earlier were very strong and brought forth a lot of emotion. It was definitely getting a bit dusty in the lounge, and for once it wasn’t because of the renovations to the rock wall. You couldn’t help but feel for those families. It was a lot to take in at the time and the fact that they followed just one after another made it just that much more emotional.
The speakers were great, as I have already mentioned, I thought President Starr’s words and his tone throughout his speech was very calming and gave you a sense of togetherness and made you believe that West could indeed get through this. Then the time came for President Obama to speak. He has a reputation of being a very good public speaker, and it didn’t disappoint on that day. The president gave a very good speech. There are a lot of different opinions on the president, especially here in Waco as I’m sure you can imagine. But one thing that cannot be denied is that he is still our president, and at that time I hope no one held bias over him because he is a democrat or because he wasn’t who they had voted for. At that point in time there were no politics. It was the president speaking to his people to honor brave men who fought for so much and for their families that lost so much.
It is one of things where I am always going to remember where I was when this happened. From when my mother first told me about what had happened to the president speaking inside the Ferrell Center. These things don’t just happen every year. By no means did I ever expect to see the president come to my school and speak. I never expected a town as close as West to suffer such a tragedy, and I never expected half of the other things that have happened to me this past year. I know college is a new experience and all, but in just my one year I have seen so much take place. It has all happened so fast and in less than two weeks I’ll no longer be a just some freshman, I’ll be…well, just some sophomore, but regardless I’ll have a year of vast experiences under my belt and will have seen so much happen in the past year. From sports victories to tragedies I have truly seen it all this year. The overwhelming support of our neighbors in West after this tragedy has been amazing. This school really rallies when it needs to. It has its faults sure, but the way the events in West were handled were full of class and it made me proud to be a Bear. I’ve seen a lot this past year, enough for more than a couple of years in my opinion. But now I can say I remember where I was when these things occurred, because these are things I am never going to forget.