Susan "Sue" Owen '94 October 30, 2019 5:09 PM updated: November 1, 2019 11:26 AM
This story is part of a yearlong series in 2019 celebrating the 140th anniversary of The Association of Former Students: tx.ag/140th
Decades of stories tell of Texas Aggies greeting each other on sight, all over the world, no matter if they are wearing business attire or a uniform or tourist gear.
That can only happen because so many order their Aggie Ring and wear it throughout their lives, and because the design has been immediately recognizable for nearly a century.
Why is the Aggie Ring tradition so strong?
A few facts:
The facts that the Aggie Ring is difficult to earn, yet globally recognizable, bolster its strength as class rings have faded elsewhere and many schools work to revive or establish a college ring program. Even then, if individuals don't wear the ring after their college days (as most schools' alumni do not), it ceases to serve as a visible connection.
A notable exception is the strong ring traditions at America’s military academies, where class rings began.
But the Aggie Ring grew even as Texas A&M transformed from a small military college in the 1960s, expanded rapidly in the ’70s and ’80s and became one of the nation’s largest public universities today.
Why have hundreds of thousands of students enthusiastically adopted the Aggie Ring tradition?
Some of The Association’s Class Agents from Texas A&M’s decades of great change weighed in about why the Aggie Ring was so important to them.
Pride, recognition and symbolism are among the top answers. And none of those came about by accident.
The sides of the Aggie Ring have elements from the Texas state seal (right) and a crossed saber, rifle and cannon, with U.S. and Texas flags. Read what all the design elements have meant to Aggies for more than a century at tx.ag/RingSymbolism.
For many Aggies, if not all, the Ring represents both school ties and personal accomplishment. Rae Oldham ’77 said, “It signified to me that I had passed 92 (or it may have been 95) hours of college credit when I ordered my Ring. I worked hard for my Ring and have worn it proudly ever since. I am very proud of where I went to college!”
Robert Oliver ’74 said, “There has always been a very real mystique surrounding the Aggie Ring. And an unbelievable amount of pride in earning one. I can’t tell you the hundreds of times I’ve seen someone wearing a Ring and have introduced myself to them.”
The Aggie Ring tradition may have started similarly to other military college rings, but there are signs that Aggies even as far back as the 1940s considered the Ring to be for all Aggies, not just those in military training.
Bill Youngkin ’69, who was a Corps of Cadets member and a yell leader in his student days before becoming a Class Agent, said he didn’t think the Aggie Ring had a particular military significance that might have influenced non-Corps students against participating in the Ring tradition. He said that the standards – “credit hours, good standing with the University, etc.” – gave it its importance. “As a result," he said, it means more "to have earned the right to wear an Aggie Ring.”
A former Corps commandant and A&M military history author, Col. James R. Woodall ’50, said that a precedent had been set decades earlier of all Aggies wearing the Ring, whether Corps or civilian “non-reg” (not subject to Corps regulations).
“After World War II, there were many veterans enrolled at A&M,” Woodall said. “As I remember, about half of the student body were veterans. I think the practice of buying and wearing the Aggie Ring was carried on by the veterans. When the college made the Corps non-compulsory, I think the practice of buying and wearing the Ring was well established, and the non-regs did just that. Making a big deal about getting and wearing the Ring certainly helped.”
Ring Committee minutes from 1946 indicate that the idea of “a differentiation in the ring for non-military graduates” had been raised, but discarded. All Aggies would wear the same design.
This Ring Committee had been set up in 1933 to take control of the design and process — before then, A&M rings were made by a variety of manufacturers, and generally anybody who wanted one could buy it.
ABOVE: In Aggie Rings from the 1900s, 1910s and 1920s, the eagle with shield, crossed saber/rifle/cannon and Texas state seal already appear recognizably like the Aggie Rings from 1933-present. BELOW: In 1933, the Aggie Ring was standardized and has been instantly identifiable worldwide ever since.
Made up of students, faculty and former students and first chaired by the head of The Association, the Ring Committee lasted until the 1990s, when The Association assumed all its roles.
Historically, it approved very few changes to the requirements or design. A rare example: In 1963 when the school was renamed Texas A&M University, the Classes enrolled at the time (1963-1966) were given a choice of having “College” or “University” on their Aggie Ring crest.
Philip Leopold ’84, another Class Agent like Youngkin, Oldham and Oliver, also brought up the importance of the design’s stability. The Aggie Ring’s consistency, he said, makes it “easy to spot in a crowd of rings. Many schools have made the mistake of allowing custom tailored rings.”
Leopold noted the “deep symbolism of all aspects of the Ring,” and the connection that recognizing the Ring gives.
“Younger Ags saw how powerful the Ring was in connecting with older Ags. I saw Aggie Rings as I traveled around the world, and it proved to be an immediate way to reach out and connect,” he said.
Today, that continues to be true – and so powerful that thousands of Aggies every year celebrate the Aggie Ring tradition, sharing photos and telling stories of what it means to them. The Association collects and shares many of these and also helps provide a focus for Aggie joy with Aggie Ring Day and the campus landmark Haynes Ring Replica, unveiled in 2009 and host to thousands of photos ever since.
The Classes of 1963 through 1966 are the only Classes that can choose an option of having “College” or “University” on their Rings, because they were enrolled when the Legislature changed A&M’s name in 1963.
Ring Day has become a major event on Aggies’ calendar. Three times a year, as many as 40,000 students, family and friends stream through the Williams Alumni Center to pick up their Aggie gold.
“Those of us from years past talk about the perfunctory manner in which Rings were delivered, and today Ring Day is really second only to commencement,” said Dwain Mayfield ’59, a former Chair of the Board for The Association.
The Association started Ring Day in 2000 as a way to add celebration and significance to the occasion, and students responded enthusiastically.
Many students ask a family member or mentor to present their Aggie Ring.
“I think it cements the feeling that all Aggies have for their Ring,” Mayfield said. “To see the excitement and enjoyment at those events, you know that it’s working.
“They’ll never forget that day.
“That would not have happened without The Association taking the leadership and making that an event to be celebrated and enjoyed.”
Using its decades of Ring order records and its constantly updated Directory of Former Students, The Association works every day to connect found Aggie Rings with their owners. Report a lost or found Ring at tx.ag/LostFound, and read some of these stories at tx.ag/LostRingStories.
If your Aggie Ring is resting in a drawer because it needs repair or resizing, The Association can help. Taking a Ring up or down two sizes is free in most cases. And even completely remaking a damaged Ring usually costs less than $90! Learn more at tx.ag/Resize. You can also order a replacement Aggie Ring if yours was lost; contact the Ring Program at (979) 845-1050 or AggieRing@AggieNetwork.com.
In all of these ways, The Association works year-round to further the Aggie Ring tradition and keep as many Aggie Rings on hands as possible.
Previous stories in the series celebrating the 140th anniversary of The Association:
Your gifts support the work of the Aggie Ring Program and more Association programs. Thank you! Lend your support at any time, or encourage others to: tx.ag/give.
Thousands of Aggies have celebrated their Aggie Rings by taking photos at the Haynes Ring Replica, unveiled in 2009 at the Williams Alumni Center. Pictured is Dominique La Fleur '10 in 2009. Whoop!