Texas Forever

UT President Jay Hartzell and Texas Exes Executive Director and CEO Chuck Harris on the Tower steps at the fall 2022 Ring Celebration.

After college, we leave The University of Texas with many things. A framed paper representation of all the hard work and sleepless nights in the library. A new appreciation for the color burnt orange and bovines with giant horns. Perhaps a tile in front of the Alumni Center.  

But thousands have also left with a physical reminder of their time at UT, quite literally on hand: a UT Class Ring. While some iterations have existed in the past, the official University of Texas ring was designed in 1996 by a committee of students. The symbolism of each student’s time at the university is clear throughout the details: the Tower, The University of Texas seal, the Texas Exes symbol, and the Longhorn are all represented on each ring.  

Class rings have always appealed to Longhorns, but the ring tradition at UT Austin was minor when compared to the enduring and almost compulsory class ring culture of the Aggies or the longstanding right of passage at Clemson. In 2018, feeling typically competitive, the Texas Exes, led by then-president Nancy Seliger, BBA ’83, Life Member, decided to go bigger. The biannual event where students received their rings each semester moved from the Alumni Center to the Main Mall in front of the UT Tower. And another new feature was added to the milestones—the rings now spend the night before the big day inside the Tower, which is lit in honor of the new recipients. In a triumph of symbolism, they are infused with burnt-orange pride. It’s a scientific fact.  

Since then, the hardware itself has also grown, with new designs added in 2020 from Balfour’s University Collection and famed designer Kendra Scott. Now there are 14 ring styles to choose from. The pomp and spectacle of it all has continued to evolve—and eager parents, grandparents, and even pets gather in throngs to watch their Longhorn receive their ring and experience one of life’s best moments. In the spring of 2022, the crowd stretched as far as the eyes of Texas can see. The Silver Spurs fired Smokey, the Longhorn Band played out, and new generation of students got to experience it all.  

The Texas Exes has been documenting ring celebrations and their impact on Longhorns over the years. Here’s a glimpse.  

“Soon after getting my ring, I was celebrating a Longhorn touchdown with high-fives to everyone around me in the student section at DKR. At that moment, the ring flew off and went down numerous rows of students. We all looked in front of us to no avail. Word soon traveled through the student section that a brand-new Exes ring had flown into the section, but nobody seemed to see it. I wondered how I would tell my mother (a ’70 alum) that I had lost my ring even before graduation. It felt like an eternity, but probably within five minutes, a student about 10 rows down had found the ring and got it back to me. We celebrated as there had been another Longhorn touchdown, and to this day, over 20 years later, I take my ring off and put it in my pocket before every kickoff.” —Greg Talley, BA ’02, Life Member 

Mother and daughter celebrate the big moment, fall 2021.

“My senior year my mom surprised me with the UT ring that was given to my grandfather upon his graduation in 1948. Dr. Frank Morris (my grandfather) grew up in Beaumont during the Great Depression and came to UT at age 16 to start classes. His major was zoology, and he went on to attend Duke’s medical school, serve as an army surgeon in the Korean War, and later became the first plastic surgeon to practice in Austin. We had my initials engraved next to his almost 75 years after.” —Patrick O’Connor, BA ’22 

“I chose to take part in the ring ceremony even though none of my other friends at UT were taking part. During that semester’s celebration, you would get in line and let someone know your name so that you get the correct ring when you get up on stage. The young woman who took my name had this elaborate system in place to make sure it was done correctly which involved name tags hanging off her arms. I got my ring and moved on. 

Two years later, I was in my first year of law school in San Antonio and had been making friends. A particular classmate had also gone to UT, but we had never crossed paths. Until, one day, she was telling me about her job after graduating from UT but before starting law school. She worked for the Texas Exes. I told her what a great time I had at my ring ceremony and told her about this woman with the name tags. Turns out, it was her and she even remembered me because we are both Marys (though she went by her middle name). We went on to be extremely close and even in each other’s weddings.” —Mary Neal, BJ ’07, Life Member 

The tradition has become a veritable campus-wide celebration, with student groups taking center stage, spring 2022.

“My big sister went to UT. She was the first child to go to college on both sides of our families. Nowadays she would be considered a ‘first-gen,’ but that wasn’t a thing back then. I looked up to her. There was no question where I was going to apply for school when the time came. I’m the last of five kids and we grew up economically disadvantaged. My parents said to go, but they couldn’t help. So, I went to school on my own. I worked at H-E-B most of my years, took babysitting jobs, and even found a work study at the Texas Memorial Museum. My friends would worry about finals. I too worried about finals, but also how I was going to pay my rent and utilities. 

My senior year at Texas was around the corner and my sister was teacher overseas in Saudi Arabia. She would check up on me and call me at odd times because of the time change. She asked why I sounded so down, and I told her I couldn’t afford a class ring. Silence. Then she said, ‘I’m buying your ring. You deserve it. You earned it.’ 

I am a teacher too. I teach kids like me at a Title 1 school for low-income families. I wear my ring daily. When students ask about it, I proudly tell them. I hope to plant a seed that their circumstance shouldn’t stop them from their successes.” —Anita Estrada-Carrera, BS ’98 

Men’s traditional UT Class Ring.

“In 2010, I was with some friends on a boat on Lake Travis. I had just received my ring earlier that year. While swimming at a popular spot, my ring slipped off my finger. It was very deep, and no one could swim to the bottom! I gave up hope and just told myself I would have to save up to get another one. Less than a month later, I received a Facebook message from a man in San Antonio. He told me he found a ring with my name on it at the bottom of a lake, and if I could describe it and what lake I lost it in, he would mail it back to me. I was in disbelief! Sure enough, I had my ring mailed back to me within the week. I offered him a reward, but he refused. There are still great people in this world.  

I now proudly serve as the Membership Involvement Chair for the Highland Lakes Texas Exes. I still wear my ring every day.” —Natalie (Shannon) Virdell, BS ’11, Life Member 

“Back in 2000, my wife and I moved from our apartment to our first home. Apparently, we had given my in-laws some of our jewelry to keep. I didn’t realize it, but my ring was with the items. I had just assumed it was lost. They found it, wrapped it up and gave it to me as a gift this Christmas! After over 20 years I have my ring again. One of my best Christmas gifts ever!” —Mike Thakur, BA ’96 

Showing off the Longhorn bling, fall 2021.

I graduated from UT in May of 1991. It was a beautiful ceremony on the mall facing the Tower. Money was tight, and I was leaving soon to start a new job, so I was never able to get a class ring. However, I remember thinking that I would return one day to get my class ring. Little did I know that it would be 28 years later, and through my only son, who would also be a UT student, that my dream of finally getting a class ring would be fulfilled. 

My son, Tyler James Lindsey, BA ’21, Life Member, received a card in the mail about ordering his class ring during his junior year. It described a ‘ring ceremony’ in the fall of 2019. He had come home for the weekend, and we read the card where we learned that the rings were to be kept overnight in the Tower and presented to recipients the following afternoon. I immediately ordered his ring and made plans to attend the ceremony. He then turned to me and said, ‘Mom, did you ever get your ring? If you didn’t, you should order one, too.’   

I thought about it for a minute, and told him it had been too long and didn’t really think I needed one, but he insisted that we could go to the ceremony together. Well, after some reflection, I realized how meaningful it would be to receive it at the same time he received his.  

The day of the ceremony was one I will never forget. All of the pageantry, like the Naval ROTC marching out of the Tower, guarding the crates which held our rings. All around us were burnt-orange and white balloons and families photographing their loved ones. I was with my son, taking our own pictures, in almost the same spot where I had graduated years earlier. I am so thankful that we attended that day because COVID would come only a few months later. It was worth waiting 28 years to have the experience of receiving my University of Texas class ring at the same time as my son.  
—Mary M. Ralston Dodson Lindsey, BA ’91 

CREDIT: Matt Wright-Steel


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