Former student Ronnie McDonald ‘93 continues to inspire the Aggie spirit after serving as the first Black yell leader in university history.
By Tiarra Drisker ‘25
Ronnie McDonald ‘93 knew very little about the culture in Aggieland when he chose to attend Texas A&M University. Learning about the university through his mother’s manager, McDonald had only heard snippets of conversations about its traditions. Little did he know, he would become a part of one of the most renowned traditions of Texas A&M as its first Black yell leader and later, Bastrop County’s youngest and first Black judge.
McDonald got his first taste of Aggie traditions at Fish Camp where he was introduced to other freshmen Aggies, learned yells, and got his first glimpse of the yell leaders. His interest in becoming yell leader began with an idea to use the position as a stepping stone for student body president. However, once he was in the position, he knew he had found his place at Texas A&M.
“Once I became a yell leader, it was one of the best experiences I had,” McDonald shared. “It was unique because there hadn’t been an African American yell leader. There hadn’t been too many yell leaders that were not in the Corps of Cadets. Even getting elected was unique. I didn’t have a base and I wasn’t in the Corps. I had to really learn what being a yell leader meant, and learn the yells because when I ran, I only knew two yells.”
Running for yell leader was a unique experience for McDonald because of his race and his position as a “non-reg” (someone not in the Corps) so he had to find a way to be even more unique. He ran on a campaign that compared Texas A&M to a rainbow. McDonald knew people would quickly spot his differences from other yell leader candidates, so he set out to highlight those differences as a strength for the university. His yell leader campaign made it clear that electing a Black student who was not a member of the Corps of Cadets was an opportunity to change the world’s perception of Texas A&M.
“I wanted to change how Texas A&M was embraced and what we think of when we think about Texas A&M,” McDonald said. “Texas A&M is like a rainbow. When you see a rainbow, you don’t see one color, but an accumulation of colors coming together to enhance the beauty of that rainbow. I came up with quotes like, ‘Why settle for fries when you could have a Big Mac?’ I would come in with a little jingle: ‘Jingle to the left and jingle to the right.’ The whole thing I wanted them to catch was this is a guy with a personality and energy that went beyond anything we ever thought of as being a yell leader. I didn’t want to focus on the things that made us different but the things that united us and the thing that united us was our differences.”
Being the first Black yell leader was not all rainbows, though. McDonald sometimes received boos during games and phone calls expressing disapproval of him as a yell leader. He struggled with the idea that he was either not Aggie enough or not Black enough. Despite the mixed reactions of crowds, McDonald’s fellow Aggies and family made him feel at home while serving his university.
“My dad was in a wheelchair, but my mom and dad always made it to every game,” McDonald said. “The Corps would always come and get my dad and make sure that he was settled in and taken care of even though I wasn’t a part of the Corps. You can have a lot of things that try to come against you, but that unity and spirit of Aggieland that brings us together amazed me. I’ve always appreciated that love.”
After graduating with his bachelors in political science and government, McDonald became judge of Bastrop County at the age of 27. McDonald credits his experiences as yell leader with preparing him to serve as the youngest county judge in history of Bastrop County.
“Running for county judge at 27-years-old was something entirely new,” McDonald explained. “I was the youngest county judge in the state of Texas. I had all these idealistic thoughts about changing the world and putting all that pressure on myself to do it was tough. At 27, people said I was too young and didn’t know enough. I think being a yell leader prepared me to deal with those situations. I was a county judge for 14 years. My time at Texas A&M prepared me for those things as a judge.”
McDonald’s success as the first Black yell leader paved the way for students to follow his example and prepared him to set other firsts in American history. His success as the youngest judge in Bastrop County carved a path for future generations. As we progress through Black History Month, McDonald emphasized the importance of learning Black history for all races.
“Your history gives you a better sense of who you are,” McDonald explained. “If we don’t know who we are, we can’t move with confidence and authority, because we don’t know that we come from greatness. It’s important for other individuals to know how African Americans gave to the whole. We have to embrace it because Black people have overcome struggles and obstacles to reach greatness, and we see that throughout our culture. A lot of times, we just get caught up in it being an African American holiday and not realizing the foundations African Americans had for the country as a whole.”
On Sept. 1, 2022, the Department of Political Science became part of the Bush School of Government & Public Service.