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Junior Ring Ceremony

“A Symbol of Connection”

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

Heffner Alumni House
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I am delighted to welcome our next senior class—the Class of 2015—to the annual Junior Ring Ceremony. This event, which was first held at Rensselaer in the spring of 2004, marks an important milestone in your college careers.

Not long ago, when you made the decision to attend Rensselaer, you became part of our family and part of our rich legacy. As you might expect of Rensselaer, we analyzed a great deal of data about your class before you first stepped onto the Troy campus.

Here are a few of the things we told the wider Rensselaer community about you back in 2011:

  • You comprised 1,192 students, with women making up nearly 32 percent, and underrepresented minority students more than 11 percent of your class.
  • You hailed from 43 states and from countries all around the world, reinforcing the global reach and global impact of Rensselaer.
  • An impressive 63 percent of you came from the top 10 percent of your high school classes.

We expected to you to be exceptional—and indeed, you needed to be exceptional from the first moments of your college experience.

Your first day of classes was cancelled due to the destructive and powerful Hurricane Irene. Many of you traveled in dire conditions just to make it here, and I felt I needed to offer you reassurance as you sat before me at the First-Year Convocation on Monday, August 29, 2011. I reminded you of two important things: first, I told you, “You can do this”—in other words, hold your own academically at Rensselaer.

The second thing I reminded you of is that you would not be alone. The Rensselaer community comprised caring men and women who would work to make your time here rewarding and fun, and to see you thrive.

Over the past few years, I hope your experiences here have helped to reaffirm the truth of what I told you in 2011. As you progressed from the first week of “Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond,” through the First-Year Experience, and, now, three years of CLASS, I trust that you have learned to succeed in myriad ways—including figuring out how best to balance your academic work and your personal interests, and discovering the value of remaining open to the many new perspectives and opportunities Rensselaer affords.

You have grown, and undoubtedly feel that you are much different from the persons who eagerly and anxiously sat before me in August of 2011.

You have developed and will continue to develop skills and abilities that soon will distinguish you as Rensselaer graduates—Rensselaer alumni and alumnae. You will recognize in the years to come that you share many qualities and experiences with all of the men and women who have studied here over almost two centuries. At Rensselaer, we treasure our rich history, and your class rings serve as a reminder of this legacy. Let me give you a slightly broader historical perspective of class rings.

The class ring tradition in the United States began in 1835 at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Since the 1960s, Rensselaer students have designed rings to reflect the shared experiences that are special to each class. In fact, Rensselaer is one of only a few schools in the country where the class rings are re-imagined by the students each year.

Allow me to highlight what distinguishes your class rings.

First, your class has two different styles of ring: one more traditional, the other contemporary. You clearly recognize the diversity of tastes within your class—and, indeed, the interesting mix of old and new that Rensselaer itself represents, as the oldest private technological university in the United States—as well as the special place it is for the birth of the new in scientific discovery and technological innovation.

In addition, old and new elements at Rensselaer—including the Alumni Sports and Recreation Center (Armory) and EMPAC—are represented on both ring styles.

Signifying the absolute cutting edge is the logo of Watson, the remarkable IBM cognitive computer, and a “transfer student” at Rensselaer—which is here, like you, to develop intellectual agility, multicultural sophistication, and a global view. You also honored the significant achievements of those who were students at Rensselaer in the 19th century, by including a Ferris Wheel, which was invented by George W. G. Ferris, Class of 1881, and the Brooklyn Bridge, whose chief engineer was Washington A. Roebling, Class of 1857.

The Student Union arches and the footbridge make a prominent appearance. And, of course, no ring would be complete without the RPI Puckman.

You also chose to include an acorn to signify your initial potential, your growth, your great knowledge and wisdom, and as I understand it, your “nuttiness.”

Many members of your Class Council worked hard to design rings that capture the unique spirit of the Class of 2015, and I congratulate them on their wit and accuracy.

In the end, your rings are a symbolic link to your classmates, friends, and generations of alumni and alumnae. They are an enduring reminder that you can do this—whatever this may be at any given moment—and that you are not alone, for you are always part of the Rensselaer family and legacy.

Now, please put on your rings, and I ask you to raise your glasses as I offer a toast:

I congratulate you, the Rensselaer Class of 2015, as you receive your class rings. Your devotion to Rensselaer—and to one another—will live on in this powerful symbol. I hope it reminds you never to stop asking yourselves, ‘Why not change the world?’”


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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