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Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Class of 2006 Ring Premiere
Russell Sage Dining Hall
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Good evening. Thank you for inviting me to this wonderful event. It is an honor to celebrate with you the presentation of your official class ring, which is a very special moment in your time at Rensselaer.

This is the second year of this new tradition, which was created by the Class of 2005. Such traditions mark important milestones in your college careers. As you draw near to the close of your junior year, and anticipate the time to come, it is important to pause and reflect on where you have been, and where you are going. This is an occasion to celebrate with your classmates, and, in a quieter moment, a propitious time to consider the many opportunities for you to learn and to grow in your remaining time at Rensselaer — and beyond.

Your class ring is an important symbol of what binds you together — and to Rensselaer. The first class ring was created in 1835 for the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. This became a more widespread tradition at colleges and universities in the 20th century, and it continues, today. But, in fact, the practice of wearing a special ring to signify individual identity, or group affiliation, goes back to the ancient Egyptians. So, in this sense, your class ring — and, your desire to wear one — belongs to a tradition that is thousands of years old.

Throughout history, rings have been symbolic, in many ways. You may have learned in the coverage of the death of Pope John Paul II that the papal ring, which is specially designed for each Pope, was removed from his finger by a Cardinal and destroyed with a silver hammer at the first meeting of the College of Cardinals after the Pope's death. This is a ritual dating back to medieval times, when the goal was to prevent the ring from coming into the possession of someone who might use it for nefarious purposes. Traditionally, the pope uses his signet ring to affix wax seals to official documents, so, today, forgery of the ring is the primary concern. When the next Pope is named, probably in the coming days, a new ring will be struck bearing his name and the image of St. Peter in a boat casting his net.

The iconography of rings also can be found in art and literature. In the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien — I suspect many of you have seen the movies based on these books — the fiercely sought after "Ring of Power," as well as the assorted other rings that confer special magical qualities, play a central role in the epic story of Middle Earth. The ring functions as a sort of Holy Grail in this classic quest tale of a hero, Frodo, who must face a series of challenges — and rely on help from others — to fulfill his important mission.

Your class ring, while having much less dramatic implications, also has its own special iconography, symbolism, and significance. The images on it include Russell Sage Laboratory, which was built with a portion of a $1 million gift in 1906 from the wife of Russell Sage.

Russell Sage was a self-made millionaire who served as a Rensselaer Trustee for the 10 years before his death. His wife, Margaret, was a strong believer in the power of education. She made this important gift to Rensselaer after he died, and then built Russell Sage College for women. These two institutions subsequently were bound together by the Russell Sage Community Center, now known as Russell Sage Dining Hall, the building we are in now. Margaret and Russell Sage's contributions to Rensselaer are commemorated with the sage branches that border the seal of the Institute.

You also have deigned this ring to include the Jonsson Engineering Center, an important building in any Rensselaer education. The image of the Approach symbolizes the connection of the Institute to the community — and to the wider world.

Of course, you have incorporated other symbols into your ring: the "RPI bullet," an enduring symbol for students, the Red Hawk and Puckman mascots, and even our unofficial mascot, "Alby," the albino squirrel and campus resident.

Many members of your class council worked hard to design this ring to accurately reflect the symbols that capture the spirit and the essence of the class that will be the 200th to graduate from Rensselaer. Wear your ring with pride and respect for the bond you have forged with friends, classmates, and your teachers. These relationships will remain in your minds and your hearts for years to come.

Now, open your ring cases, and put on your rings.

And, so, I congratulate you, the Class of 2006, as you receive your rings. Your devotion to Rensselaer — and to one another — will live on in this powerful symbol. May you continue to lead, to learn, and to achieve. Cheers.

Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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