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Class of 2014 Ring Ceremony

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

Heffner Alumni House Great Room
Rensslelaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I am particularly pleased to welcome our next senior class—the Class of 2014—to the annual Class Ring Ceremony Dinner. This tradition marks an important milestone in your college career, and presents you with a unique opportunity to reflect on your time here at Rensselaer. This evening is an occasion to do that with your classmates, and to consider the many opportunities for you to learn and to grow in your remaining time at Rensselaer—and beyond.

We join together tonight with heavy hearts and unanswered questions as we grieve the recent and tragic loss of one of our Rensselaer family members— your fellow classmate, friend, and Delta Phi brother—Michael Connor Dickinson. The sadness over the loss of Michael, who, I understand, always wore a smile, reverberates throughout our entire Rensselaer community. I extend my deepest condolences to his family and to those of you in this room tonight who were closest to him. We all grieve his loss. 

Throughout this difficult time, please lean on one another, and know there are campus resources available to help you as you grieve. As we continue with evening’s program, I encourage you to remember Michael’s smile and to draw strength from it, and to draw strength from your fellow Rensselaer family members.

Not long ago, when you made the decision to attend Rensselaer, you became part of our family, and thus part of the rich legacy that is Rensselaer. I would like to share with you what we announced to the community about you upon your arrival back in 2010: 

The Class of 2014 at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute promises to be an exceptional group, with an increase in average SAT scores and roughly 66 percent of the students coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes. 

The class comprises 1,167 students, including a total of 123 transfer students from various institutions. The high-achieving group also includes 327 women (28 percent of the class), and diversity in the national and international profile of the student body. 

Competition for these spots was intense, with a record total of more than 13,400 freshman applications received. 

Nearly 27 percent of the students are from areas outside of the Northeast and hail from 42 states, in addition to the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and 14 foreign countries, reinforcing our belief that a university must have global reach in order to have global impact.

So, we knew before you ever reached the Troy campus that you—members of the Class of 2014—were going to raise the bar.

I knew that you would be successful—even as you sat before me filled with excitement, hope, and perhaps, trepidation, on the eve of your first day of classes nearly three years ago, on Sunday, August 29, 2010. At that time, I suggested that three great questions would arise during your time here, whose answers would shape your lives more than any that would appear on your exams. To remind you, the three questions were: What is your calling? What matters most in your times? And who are you?

Over the past few years, I hope your experiences have helped you to find answers to these questions. Since your first week of “Navigating Rensselaer and Beyond,” and through the support we have provided to you through the First Year Experience and CLASS, I trust that you have learned to succeed in a myriad of ways, from how best to balance your academic work and your personal interests, to what it means to be open and flexible to the new experiences and ideas you have been exposed to. All while challenging yourselves to reach out even farther—perhaps—to try things you never imagined you would do. You have discovered, created, competed, been entrepreneurial, worked in companies, done community projects, traveled abroad, and maybe even fallen in (and out of) love. Above all, you have grown, and are probably much different from the persons who anxiously sat before me in August 2010.

Most importantly, you have developed, and will continue to develop, skills and abilities that will one day distinguish you as a Rensselaer graduate - a Rensselaer alumnus or alumna. You joined their ranks on your first day on campus, and you will recognize in the years to come that you have a special bond with all those who have come before you over the past 189 years (190 years upon your commencement), and that you too, one day soon, will be part of the great legacy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and welcome future graduates as part of its lineage.

The tradition that we are celebrating this evening is a relatively new one when measured by those 189 years. Introduced by the Class of 2005, the first Ring Ceremony at Rensselaer was held in the spring of 2004. Those of you who served on the 2014 Ring Committee may have discovered that the very first class ring was created in 1835 for the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The tradition became more widespread at colleges and universities throughout the 20th century, 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—belong to a tradition that is thousands of years old.

In a tradition followed by so many, Rensselaer stands out. Rensselaer is one of only a few schools in the country where the class ring is redesigned by students each year. Dating back to the 1960s, Rensselaer students have created rings to reflect the unique history, memories, and shared experiences that are special to each class. And your class is no different.

It is the design, and the intended message behind the iconography and symbolism chosen by each Class that defines the significance of its unique class ring. Allow me to highlight what distinguishes your ring from all that have come before. 

At the top, your year, 2014, is displayed prominently.  

Just below your year, the Student Union arches reside. The Student Union stands as a symbol of pride and the center of student life, and it is a place you have congregated in and passed through hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Showcased in the Student Union arches, are three symbols that are very dear to your class, Target, Transit, and the famous RPI Puckman, whose Harlem Shake video, I understand, garnered nearly 5,000 views on YouTube (perhaps some of you starred alongside him).

The next icon symbolizes the many connections you have made during your time here. The covered walkway, has 14 supports, and connects each student to his/her classes, and to the many students and faculty you met in each of those classes.

Next, below the walkway, sandwiched in between the columns from the iconic Approach, and above four steps of the Approach, is your class logo. Your logo cleverly features “RPI”, while also forming the number 14 to signify your class year.  

You have made your mark on your class ring, and in your time here, on Rensselaer. So wear it proudly and think of us often. Many members of your class council worked hard to design a ring to include specific symbols which capture the spirit of the Class of 2014. 

In the end, your ring is a symbolic link with your classmates, friends, and generations of alumni and alumnae. Your ring will transcend the test of time, as Roger Mike ’70 demonstrated through his story tonight, and as Juan Gonzalez ’49 portrayed through his story just a few years ago. At the age of 31, Juan lost his ring on a beach in Puerto Rico while playing with his three young children. Juan could have never imagined that after 51 years, at the age of 82, he would be reunited with his class ring when a Good Samaritan found it on the beach, and worked with the Office of Alumni Relations to return it. Reflecting on the significance of his class ring, Juan said, “In my youth, the class ring represented a celebration of fulfillment of a young man’s many ideals. As time went by, more and more, it became a symbol of the realization of those ideals with all the successes, failures, and memories attached.”

Like Juan, and all the Rensselaer alumni/ae that you have come before you, you will go on to experience many things when you graduate. Your ring will endure as a symbol of your time here at Rensselaer—the successes you have had, and your achievements to come. 

Your class will be the 208th to graduate from Rensselaer. Wear your ring with pride and respect for the knowledge that you are part of an enduring legacy and tradition, and with the confidence that you do have the power, and the skills, to change the world.

Now, if you would open your ring cases, and put on your rings, I ask you to raise your glasses as I offer a toast:

I congratulate you, the Class of 2014, as you receive your class rings. Your devotion to Rensselaer—and to one another—will live on in this powerful symbol. May you continue to ask yourselves what your calling is, what matters most in your time, and who you are, as the answers may evolve over time. Above all, in the Rensselaer tradition, never stop asking “Why not Change the World?” 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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