AUSTIN (KXAN) — Thursday the University of Texas at Austin’s alumni association, Texas Exes rang in a new tradition. Their hope is to connect past and present students with a common rite of passage.
This year the class rings students purchase toward the end of their academic career will undergo a special ceremony and be locked in the UT Tower overnight, which will be lit in their honor. Once the ritual is complete, students will be presented with their rings on Friday.
Ringing in a new tradition for UT Austin Students
UT class rings are intended to be a sign of the UT pride and academic achievement that can be worn life-long. Students have worn some version of the University of Texas rings since 1927.
The new tradition will begin on Thursday, April 25. Fifteen-hundred class rings were placed inside the UT Tower and UT’s President Greg Fenves read a proclamation over the rings. That night, the Tower will be lit in honor of the students so that the rings can bask in the orange glow overnight.
Friday April 26, a Ring Celebration will take place where the rings will be marched out of the tower and presented to students at 2 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. The public is invited to attend and cheer on these students as they receive their rings.
Other schools have traditions related to class rings and the Texas Exes decided it was time for the same to happen at UT.
UT says the rings are handcrafted through an “exclusive partnership with central Texas artisans” at the company Balfour.
The current ring was designed in 1996 by a committee of UT students. It’s a tradition Texas Exes say more than 47,000 UT students have participated in since that time.
Only Longhorns who have completed at least 75 credit hours are eligible to purchase these rings.
The rings are presented at a ceremony by the Texas Exes to celebrate the academic achievements of a student as they near the end of their degree. Texas Exes say the proper way to wear the ring as a student is with the Tower engraving facing in, a symbol that it is close to your heart. After graduation, the ring should be worn with the engraved Texas Exes symbol facing in.
Nancy Seliger, President of Texas Exes, explained that the alumni association decided it was time to bring in a new ceremony for the rings.
“At Texas Exes, we think of ourselves as the keepers of the traditions and we wanted to add a new one, the university is hard to get into these days, and on behalf of the 530,000 living Texas Exes, we want to celebrate this achievement for these students,” Seliger said. “And so we’ve created a whole different ceremony and we think it’s going to be wonderful.”
She explained that the idea for the ceremony is the product of brainstorming by the Texas Exes staff. Seliger also noted this is not just a celebration for students about to graduate, past students are invited to participate as well — she and her son may even come back and take part in a ring ceremony next year because they never got rings as UT students.
“We’re including people from past decades, whenever you graduated if you want to come back and take part in this celebration we would love to have you,” she said, noting that Texas Exes plan to host one ceremony in the fall each year for the December graduates and another in the spring each year for May graduates.
History of UT Class rings
Class rings are popular at many American universities, at the University of Texas campus they have been around for 92 years.
Jim Nicar, a former Texas Exes employee who made a hobby out of serving as an unofficial historian for UT, offered KXAN some insight on how this began.
Nicar said that in the spring of 1927, the senior class at UT voted to have a class ring and chose a design from student Amy Jackson, a student who worked as a technician in the zoology department. That ring featured design was ten-carat gold with a set, red garnet stone. One side featured a Longhorn with a lariat looped through its horns, the number 27, a lone star and a wreath of Texas cacti. The other side listed the degree the graduate obtained as well as the crest, a scroll, and a wreath of bluebonnets.
Nicar said sales for these rings didn’t pick up until students realized this would be part of a long term tradition. A
Many different styles and designs for the ring cycled through over the years. At that time, rings could be purchased at the University Co-op, men’s sold for $13 each and co-ed rings were $10.50 (current rings sell for $600- $1,000).
“Although attractive, the multiple designs lacked a cohesive symbolic message,” UT’s website says.
Nicar explained that by the 1980’s and 1990’s, it became possible to get senior rings of several different styles from a few stores on “the Drag” along Guadalupe Street.
In 1996, Nicar noted, Jim Boon who was Executive Director of Texas Exes at that time, worked with UT’s student government to create a single, official class ring that would be only available through the Texas Exes.
At that time, a student committee met and decided on a ring design, which was released in December 1996. Thus began “Ring Week” in 1997, the time in the semester where students who’d completed enough credits could order rings
At first in 1997, a ring ceremony was scheduled in April in the banquet hall of the alumni center, given to students individually by a university administrator and sometimes the president.
Nicar actually ran some of these presentations of the rings, explaining that many were “standing room only.” He added, that as ring sales became more popular, more ceremonies were created to meet demand, eventually leading to three in a single week.
Texas Exes tried out other variations on the ceremony, such as hosting it at the main mall.
Most recently, students would go to the alumni center on campus to pick up their rings.