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More than a century and a quarter after Texas A&M University first opened its doors, Haley Rushing and her dedicated team at The Purpose Institute embarked on an ambitious quest to capture the very essence of Aggieland in words. The group faced an enormous challenge: While Aggies themselves understood their beloved university’s unique spirit, those from the outside often struggled to grasp what makes it special. There was even a well-known expression then-university President Dr. Robert Gates often heard around campus: “From the outside looking in, you can’t understand it. From the inside looking out, you can’t explain it.”

He commissioned his recently hired chief marketing officer, Steve Moore ’79, to find a fitting way to tell Aggies’ unique story. Through thousands of heartfelt conversations and meticulous research involving current and former students, faculty, supporters, and Aggie parents and siblings, a breakthrough was achieved in 2005. The six Aggie core values—respect, excellence, leadership, loyalty, integrity and selfless service—were finally identified. “These values had always been an integral part of Aggieland,” Rushing said. “They were simply articulated clearly so that everyone could understand how they shape the character of the university’s students and its traditions.”

From the first 40 students in fall 1876 to the nearly 75,000 today, these six values have forged the very fabric of the Aggie community. Together, they create a timeless tale—a testament to what being an Aggie truly means. As the stories of six current Aggies unfold, their lives bear witness to the enduring legacy of these values, exemplifying their profound impact in shaping not only Aggieland but also the world beyond its boundaries.

Samson Baguma ’24 serves the university as a Ross Volunteer, where he embodies the core value of respect.

Samson Baguma ’24 | RESPECT

When Samson Baguma '24 left Kenya and arrived in Fort Worth at age 13, he entered a new world. On his first day of school, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and a language he barely spoke, he heeded his mother’s advice to sit at the front of the classroom to better comprehend the teacher.

Despite his efforts, his accent hindered his communication, and when he raised his hand to answer a question, the teacher couldn’t grasp what he said. “I knew the answer, but my accent was too thick for the teacher to understand,” he explained.

After class, with humility and a hint of trepidation, Baguma approached the teacher to apologize for his accent. What he received in return was not a reprimand or dismissal but an unexpected display of understanding as the teacher assured him that his accent was valued in her classroom. This small act of respect and compassion planted a seed of hope in Baguma’s heart about his new home.

Years later, an encounter with a Corps of Cadets recruiter named Jerry Peralta ’07 became another pivotal moment in his life. Peralta didn’t pressure him into choosing the university; instead, he encouraged him to follow his heart and do what felt right. “All he asked was that I go home and search ‘Texas A&M’ on the internet,” Baguma recalled.

“Respect is giving every person a chance to feel cared for because we can learn something from every person we meet.”
- Samson Baguma ’24

As he searched, he stumbled upon a tribute video the university produced about President George H.W. Bush following his passing. Listening to the former president speak poignantly about Aggieland, Baguma was moved by a simple yet powerful phrase: “Once an Aggie, always an Aggie.” Those words resonated deeply, and he knew he’d found a place where he belonged. For Baguma, it was never about finding a university that boasted the highest accolades or grandest achievements; it was about finding a place where people genuinely cared for each other, where differences were embraced and where respect was a guiding principle.

Now, as a public health major and leader in the Ross Volunteer Company, he carries with him the warmth of his mother’s guidance, the compassion of his teacher’s understanding and the sincerity of Peralta’s advice. “I knew Aggies would care, and that’s all I wanted,” he elaborated. “You meet a lot of people in life. They’re all different, but respect is making everyone feel significant regardless of their accomplishments or attributes. As a Ross Volunteer, I’m honored to give back the respect I’ve received here to the families and loved ones of Silver Taps honorees.”

After an injury prevented her from playing college soccer, Karlina Sample ’22 ’23 excelled on campus in other meaningful ways.

Karlina Sample ’22 ’23 | EXCELLENCE

Karlina Sample’s journey to Aggieland was deeply intertwined with her passion for athletics. A former soccer player, sports had always been at the core of her experiences and aspirations. However, things changed in 2019 when she suffered a devastating ACL injury—an unexpected setback that shifted the trajectory of her life and opened a world beyond the soccer field.

Utilizing the incident to self-reflect, Sample ’22 ’23 realized her identity wasn’t limited to being an athlete. “The injury forced me to get my head out of athletics, which was all I knew about Texas A&M,” she explained. “Now I see that excellence was less about me succeeding on the field and more about helping others succeed off it.”

In January 2020, while attending the national Black Student Athlete Summit and listening to presentations from various schools, an idea sprouted. Sample recognized the need for an organization at Texas A&M that would provide Black student-athletes with a space to recognize their potential beyond sports and make a positive impact on campus. Motivated by her passion for empowering others, she decided to take matters into her own hands and founded “Black Leaders who Undertake Excellence,” or B.L.U.E.print.

“When you create an environment for everyone to succeed in their own way, that’s true excellence.”
- Karlina Sample ’22 ’23

Through the organization, Sample has created a community where athletes can learn to use their voices and natural leadership skills off the field and court. Some of its most successful events include a financial freedom night where a former student-athlete spoke on the importance of financial literacy, a Counseling and Sport Psychology Services “Shop Talk” for Black male student-athletes focused on mental health, and a cookout with music, games and food trucks that brought athletes and campus administrators together.

Sample also formerly represented student-athletes through the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee, which promotes a positive forum of communication and serves as the voice of Texas A&M student-athletes as it relates to the NCAA. Outside of athletics, she is involved with the Texas A&M Foundation Maroon Coats, an opportunity she says inspires her to be excellent. “The people I’ve met through Maroon Coats have helped me see that no goal is too big for me to pursue,” she shared.

Now pursuing a master’s in entrepreneurial leadership in the McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship, Sample hopes to continue her path of excellence by leading, learning and loving others like she has during her time at Texas A&M. “B.L.U.E.print showed me that I can lead and effect change in various aspects of life, not just on the soccer field,” she said. “In creating this organization, I discovered the essence of true excellence: helping others succeed and making a difference in their lives.”

As executive chair of Class Councils, Hayley Pickett ’24 has learned that genuine leadership means recognizing the strengths of others and empowering them to succeed.

Hayley Pickett ’24 | LEADERSHIP

From a young age, Hayley Pickett ’24 was drawn to Aggieland’s traditions, vibrant spirit and warm atmosphere, which she experienced firsthand at football games with her Aggie family. But as she grew older, what most intrigued her were the countless involvement opportunities offered by student organizations.

Starting college in August 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges, but Pickett’s determination led her to join Fish Council, a Freshman Leadership Organization. Little did she know her decision would set her on a transformative leadership path. Fish Council is connected to Class Councils, the organization responsible for executing cherished traditions she’d grown up hearing about, like Elephant Walk and Ring Dance. Within Fish Council, Pickett took on her first leadership role as chair for Shack-A-Thon, an event that fundraises for Habitat for Humanity.

Hungry for more opportunities to make a difference, she became the Class Councils service committee chair during her sophomore year, a role that allowed her to initiate partnerships with the City of College Station, organize food drives and help make dog toys for a local animal shelter. In addition, she became finance executive for MSC Town Hall to bring live entertainment to campus.

“Leadership is stepping up, owning your mistakes and encouraging others to lead alongside you.”
- Hayley Pickett ’24

Pickett then elevated her involvement further by running for junior class president, a key leadership position within Class Councils. When her campaign crushingly came up short, instead of backing away from the organization, she pursued and succeeded in attaining an even greater opportunity: executive chair of Class Councils. “The application required us to write about our goals and ideas for the year,” Pickett explained. “There wasn’t a word limit, so I wrote 14 pages detailing my dreams for the organization.”

Now in her senior year, Pickett is enjoying her role leading Class Councils, where she works closely with class presidents and student directors to coordinate university traditions, class gifts and more. Reflecting on her journey, she said she’s learned that genuine leadership is not about personal achievements but about recognizing the strengths of others and empowering them to succeed.

“The most respected leaders are humble enough to seek help when needed and celebrate the talents of those around them because they know that bringing others along is what generates real success,” she said. “I hope my story serves as a testament to the transformative power of facing challenges, showing that when you lead with empathy and a genuine desire to elevate others, the possibilities for positive change are limitless.”

Sydney Ramon ’23 ’25 grew up in the Rio Grande Valley and resonated with the sense of like-minded loyalty she found in Aggieland.

Sydney Ramon ’23 ’25 | LOYALTY

Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley just minutes away from Mexico, Sydney Ramon ’23 ’25 had roots firmly embedded in her tight-knit, loyal community of McAllen, Texas. There, patriotism was instilled at a young age as she was surrounded by people who had chosen to be Americans. “We lived by the values of hard work, family and community,” she said. “I saw my parents selflessly serve through our local church. We spent every holiday working the church food bank and giving back to our community, a testament to the spirit of service that flows through the valley.”

But despite the community’s strength, it was impossible not to notice disparities in access, resources and opportunities throughout the region. At age 15, Ramon started RGV Matters, a community organization that empowers young people through civic engagement. Through the initiative, she built a network of like-minded individuals who provided high schoolers with resources such as professional development, mentorship and opportunities to have a voice in their community.  

However, as the end of high school neared, Ramon faced a dilemma: stay close to home by attending The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley or experience life outside the valley at another university. A tour of Texas A&M made the decision clear. “Initially, I felt a sense of longing for my hometown,” she said. “But everything changed on the last night as we stood at the Bonfire Memorial. It was there, among the rocks and lighted path, that I felt a profound sense of belonging, reminiscent of the loyalty and support I experienced back home.”

“Loyalty is community.”
- Sydney Ramon ’23 ’25

That night, Ramon realized that Texas A&M was more than just an institution; it was a fiercely loyal community. Despite being one of the biggest universities in the country, the sense of being recognized as an individual and member of the larger Aggie family struck a chord. “Aggieland has opened a world of opportunity for me, and I needed that to give back to my hometown the way I envision.”

Now a graduate student in the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Ramon is pursuing her dream of advocating for greater equity and affordability in higher education across the country, especially for the valley. “I am driven by the belief that leaving the valley was not a sign of abandoning it, but a necessary step in becoming a catalyst for progress and giving back in a way that truly matters,” she said. “I’m fueled by the same sense of loyalty to my community that guided me from the very beginning.”

John David Nesmith ’23 learned to exercise integrity as Texas A&M's chief justice within the Student Government Association.

John David Nesmith ’23 | INTEGRITY

After graduating high school in 2014, John David Nesmith ’23 enrolled at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. One year into his studies, however, he realized that path wasn’t meant for him and entered the private security sector, working for the City of Corpus Christi in various capacities. Over time, he earned certifications, honed his skills and built his career.

Opportunity knocked on his door amidst tragic circumstances when Hurricane Harvey wreaked havoc in Texas. The Department of Homeland Security recognized his capabilities and hired him as a federal protection officer at temporary emergency facilities. The experience sparked a yearning to do more, and Nesmith set his sights on Texas A&M. “In high school, my ROTC commanding officer was an Aggie, and his stories about the university made a lasting impression on me.”

Once he enrolled in the Bush School of Government and Public Service’s political science program, his interest piqued at an email from the student government judicial court that presented an opportunity to combine his passion for public safety and the law. Rooted in its mission to secure the university’s core values, the court rules on cases related to constitutional and legislative interpretation, election regulation, and conflict resolution for the student government’s legislative and executive branches.

“Integrity is knowing you are only as good as your word and your initiative.”
- John David Nesmith ’23

Though his first application was rejected, Nesmith persevered. When a spot on the judicial court opened, Natalie Parks ’22, the student body president at the time, recognized his potential as a nontraditional student with prior work experience. As an associate justice, he immersed himself in his role, going above and beyond to identify areas for improvement, transcribe bylaws and step in for the chief justice when needed.

Nesmith’s dedication and hard work did not go unnoticed. When he applied for chief justice, he was chosen because his peers saw the value of his contributions and his commitment to upholding integrity. “While serving as chief justice, I knew that integrity extended beyond my individual actions; it reflected on the entire Texas A&M community,” he said. “As an Aggie, I understood the weight of the responsibility and vowed to ensure my actions aligned with my words.”

As he looks ahead to a future in public service, potentially as a criminal investigator, Nesmith is a shining example of how one’s passion, determination and willingness to make your actions match your words can create opportunities. “My path to Texas A&M was unconventional, but it was precisely what I needed to find my purpose and thrive.”

Outside of classes, Clayton Elbel ’23 ’24 has served with the Farmlink Project since fall 2020 to bring surplus food from farmers to food banks in need.

Clayton Elbel ’23 ’24 | SELFLESS SERVICE

In the small town of Spring Branch, Texas, Clayton Elbel ’23 ’24 grew up as the son of two veterinarians. He spent his formative years working alongside his father, tending to cattle and nurturing a peach orchard, relishing every moment spent in the thick of production agriculture.

As he grew older, his passion for agriculture led him to join 4-H and FFA, where he found his place as a state FFA officer during his freshman year of college. In this esteemed role, he served as a beacon of inspiration for over 140,000 Texas FFA members, leading by example and embracing the values of authenticity and resilience in leadership. When his time as a state officer ended, he yearned for more ways to make a difference.

In fall 2020, fate guided him to the Farmlink Project, a nonprofit endeavor that changed his life. Founded by college students with a burning desire to make a positive impact and the skills to connect with each other across the country via virtual platforms, Farmlink seeks to bridge the gap between farmers with surplus produce and food banks in need. “Before Farmlink, there would be potatoes, milk, lettuce and so much more that would end up rotting in fields or dumped at production facilities because farmers didn’t have the resources to move the produce to food banks,” Elbel explained. “Meanwhile, hunger was rising alongside the pandemic, and food banks were grappling with the longest lines they’d faced in generations.”

“There is service, and then there is selfless service. The difference between the two lies in ensuring dignity and giving unconditional empathy to those we serve.”
- Clayton Elbel ’23 ’24

Farmlink became a vessel for Elbel to channel his selfless service into action. Outside of his studies as an agricultural economics student, he has driven pallets of fresh produce across the vast expanse of Texas, coordinated with Uber Freights and dedicated countless hours to ensuring that food reaches families in need. In the three years since its founding, Farmlink has achieved astonishing numbers—over 100 million pounds of food moved, 153,825 tons of carbon dioxide emissions prevented and 83 million meals delivered to the hungry.

To Elbel, selfless service is more than a mere concept; it’s a creed to live by. “I believe in being your brother’s keeper, extending a hand to those in need, and giving them the respect and dignity they deserve,” he said. He’s learned that true service is about more than the superficial act of giving; it’s recognizing the inherent worth and humanity in every person he serves.

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