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College Rings: The New Big Thing


What's the latest thing for college graduates? Believe it or not, it's a college ring!

High school rings are such sought-after jewelry that it might seem college rings would be, too. In reality, though, many colleges and universities abandoned a ring tradition in the 1970s because students wanted a more individual designs.

The result? All kinds of college rings looked good, but didn't give grads a common identity and sense of achievement.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that the tradition of college rings begin with the 1835 class at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The Class of 1835 chose the motto, "Danger Brings Forth Friendship," to engrave on the ring. Now each West Point class chooses its own motto for its ring.

Like the military academy, some universities, such as MIT, Notre Dame, Duke, Clemson and Texas A&M, caught the ring tradition and never let go. Within the past decade other colleges are bringing a new ring thing to their campus culture. Alumni associations are helping to revive the college ring tradition, especially by hosting impressive campus ceremonies at which upperclassmen are given their rings.

Jewelers say the best college rings share three traits: a strong symbol of the university, a sense of merit (earning the right to wear the ring) and a high level of value.

The symbol could be the university's seal, or a mascot, or a motto. Whatever it is, a university's official ring must be a unique expression of the college's identity. Unlike high school rings, where an individual's interests are more important, college rings are made with a single design, to show unity and affiliation with a distinctive community.

The University of Maryland's ring has a ruby stone topped with the school's logo. Brigham Young University's ring look like a signet ring, with a Y engraved over mountains and "Go Forth to Serve" written inside. Vanderbilt University chose a distinctive black and gold design with the university's crest on an onyx stone.

Besides its distinctive beauty, a college ring gives a deep sense of merit. Colleges set their own standards for who is permitted to wear their rings. Sometimes there are academic requirements, such as earning a certain level of credits, or completing junior year.

One practice that nearly all colleges resist is giving their coveted ring to someone who isn't a graduate. Not even celebrities or presidents will get a university ring if they're not a true alum.

This special status also becomes part of the ring's value. Its cost represents the skill and craftsmanship that goes into its creation, yet the ring ought to be fairly priced.

College rings can cost several hundred dollars each, but some students have such affection for their alma mater that they'll buy more than one. Texas A&M grads, known as "Aggies," sometimes buy more than one ring, wearing a plain version for everyday and another one studded with diamonds on more formal occasions.

Now that's school spirit!