Used as a symbol of unity and the time that they spent at the academy, the 1835 graduating class of West Point Academy began a tradition that is still popular today. That tradition is the “class ring”. While being a representation of school spirit, a way that graduates can identify other classmates, the class ring signifies the graduate’s individuality, achievements and serves as their bridge into adulthood.
The United States Military Academy, (West Point), first made the wearing of the class ring a part of their uniform in 1835. It was apparent that this new “tradition” did not go over too well because the class of 1836 opted not to wear rings and the class of 1879, wore hand cliffs instead of rings. Prior to 1917, the cadets were allowed to design their rings to suit their personality, but today they are only allowed to choose the center stone. One side of the ring the academy’s insignia is embossed, other side is the class crest. Center stone contains the year of graduation and the academy’s name.
During “Ring Weekend”, the fall of a cadet’s senior year, they receive their rings. As part of this ritual, they return to their barracks and allow the fourth classmen to surround them and recite the “Ring Poop” and then they are allowed to touch the senior’s rings. From the time the graduating cadet receives their ring to graduation, the class ring is worn their left hand, with its insignia facing the cadet. After graduating, the cadet turns the ring’s insignia outward, symbolizing their bond to the academy. In 1999, retired Lt. Col. Ron Turner, (1958), introduced a new academy tradition, ring donations. Former graduates donate their rings to be melted down and merged into the rings of the freshman class. Some donor rings go back as far as 1901.
In the 1950’s high school graduates adopted the tradition. Their parents felt that the class ring was a sign of accomplishment, a symbol of wealth and the chance to have bragging rights in regards to their family. The class ring signifies many different things. One is the “rites of passage”; it shows the graduate’s transition into a new life from being a child to being an adult. Some schools commemorate this by allowing a family member or friend to turn the graduate’s ring around, to signify their transitions. Young men often give the ring to a girl that they consider special with the intent that someday they will marry. It was also used to show wealth or pride of a family, that their child graduated from a prestigious school. An alumnus uses the rings as a way to identify former classmates and instructors.
The 1960’s and 70’s saw a decline in the purchasing of the class ring. About only half of graduating high school seniors purchased them. They felt that that were more pressing matters going on around them, so they could not be bothered by something as trivial as a class ring. Also, those decades saw an increase in the price of gold and that affected the price of the gold class ring. Instead of paying a mere 60.00 or 70.00 for a ring, the price went up to over 200.00.
The economy is one of the key factors in ring purchases today. Families must decide whether they can fit this expense into their budgets. Class rings can cost well over 1,000.00. To accommodate families in tight economic situations, some ring companies have introduced rings made of nonprecious metals. Future graduates and their parents focus more on senior heads (pictures), varsity jackets and the prom as remembrances. Ring manufacturers have also derived innovative ways to work with families that are hard pressed for cash. The traditional metal that was used in making the rings was gold. But as the economy changed and the price of gold went up, creative students and jewelers used different metals to design the rings. They now offer alternatives to the traditional class ring such as bracelets and necklaces.
Class rings are designed to show school pride and the accomplishments of the graduate. The designs were of the school’s mascot or the emblem of the school. Students now have the rings designed to include their birthdates, clubs, sports or academic achievements, their initials and even special messages. One ring manufacturer has setup a website where the student can design their rings. Users of the site can start from scratch, creating something that will assist them in recalling their school years, their accomplishment and fond memories. The ring is to be worn on the right hand ring finger.
Whether a graduating student symbolizes their school experiences by photo, yearbooks, the prom or articles of clothing, the only symbol that has the capacity of being a tangible family heirloom is the class ring.