Making the UT Ring a Longhorn Tradition

(Association Note: Fall 2020 Tower Dedication and Ring Celebration looks different this year due to COVID-19. For more information, go here.)

On an exceptionally bright Friday afternoon this past April, nearly 1,500 students and their loved ones stood eagerly before the UT Tower, teeming with excitement as the bells rang out “The Eyes of Texas.” Members of UT’s Naval ROTC and Air Force ROTC stoically marched out of the Main Building carrying trunks containing precious treasure: UT Class Rings. 

 It was the first time that the class rings had ever spent the night before Ring Celebration inside the hallowed halls of the Tower. But the history behind the tradition of the official UT Class Rings actually begins a few decades back.  

For many years, graduating Longhorns could purchase a class ring through vendors like the UT Co-op. But the rings lacked consistency. Some had skinny bands and multi-colored jewels, or came with different university symbols and designs.  

Then on Dec. 2, 1996, a group of UT alumni, faculty, and students presented Longhorns with a different plan: to create a newly designed, official UT Class Ring sold exclusively by the Texas Exes; one unique design that could unify the generations of Longhorns to come. “What we have now is a new tradition,” said then-Student Government president Jeff Tsai, BA ’97, Life Member, according to The Daily Texan. “A simple ring that each student will have will unify all of us, not only in the coming year, but also in many years to come.”  

A committee of alumni and students had spent the previous year designing the perfect ring, using a student survey of about 300 people to guide their decisions. They wanted to be sure to create a token that would be recognizable by fellow Longhorns around the world. The outcome was a ring featuring the UT Tower, Littlefield Fountain, the state flag, a longhorn, the UT seal, and the Texas Exes symbol. With the new ring, there was an added small but meaningful practice: While a student, the ring is properly worn with the Tower facing in, signifying it is close to your heart. Upon graduation, students turn their rings so that the Texas Exes symbol is facing in. 

 “The ring was exclusively designed to incorporate the icons that students and alumni feel are important remembrances of the university,” said Jim Boon, BBA ’69, MBA ’72, Life Member, former executive director of the Texas Exes. “It enables students to keep the tradition of this great university.”  

Over the years, there’s been no shortage of heartwarming tales of Texas Exes and their UT Class Rings. There’s the story about the cop who tracked down a man for six years, just to return his class ring 27 years after it had been stolen. There’s the one about the mother who changed her family’s lives by getting her degree and in return, they gifted her a gold ring engraved with the words “Thank You.” And there’s the one about the Aggie who rescued a UT ring from a pawn shop and made sure it got home safe to its rightful owner. “I was really happy to have some outward symbol of my time at Texas back—something that I’m obviously very proud of,” she said. 

Whatever the story may be, one thing holds true: The UT rings are a symbol of pride, precious to the Longhorns whose hands they adorn. Though an outsider might be quick to accuse Longhorns of mimicking the traditions at other schools, including our maroon-outfitted neighbors to the east, the UT rings have long been a fixture on the right hands of nearly 50,000 UT alumni. 

Six years following the ring’s debut, the alumni association held the inaugural Texas Official Class Ring Ceremony in December 2002. There were record sales that year, and two ceremonies had to be held to accommodate the 1,000-plus students. Inside the ballroom of the Alumni Center, which was flooded with families dressed in their finest, each student was called up to receive their ring and a handshake from the university president or provost. Although individual names are no longer called out, the celebratory event has taken place every spring and fall since. 

But this year, the Texas Exes shook things up. 2018-19 Texas Exes president Nancy Seliger, BBA ’83, Life Member, spearheaded efforts to make Ring Celebration grander than before, meeting with organizations on campus to encourage them to take part. When the rings were placed inside the Tower, UT Austin President Gregory L. Fenves and Texas Exes Executive Director Chuck Harris, BBA ’86, Life Member, signed a proclamation for the new ring celebration. “The shining Tower, a beacon of Longhorn pride, will infuse the rings with the spirit of the Forty Acres,” it reads.   

“It’s not often you get to witness the start of a Longhorn tradition,” Harris said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime moment.”  

Ring Celebration included appearances from Texas Cheer, Hook ’Em, and Fenves. “Think about the friendships you’ve made, the professors who have inspired you, the daydreams you’ve had on the Main Mall, and the knowledge that opened your mind,” Fenves said. “Those memories are yours for the rest of your life and this ring will help you remember.”  

A UT Class Ring can mean many things for the students who receive them. In some cases, they’re a tribute to the families that helped them get through a grueling four years. Government junior Elizabeth Murray, who comes from a long line of Longhorns, attended the celebration. Her grandfather bought her a ring as a gift to commemorate her accomplishments. “UT has been in the family a long time,” she said. “It was only fitting that my grandfather present my ring to me.”  

For some, like radio-television-film senior Santiago Castellanos, the ring is a reminder of their hard work. “I think the ring tradition is pretty cool,” he said. “And having it presented to me right in front of the Tower has made it more meaningful.”  



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