Ring ceremonies in high schools across the country have been a tradition for many years, but this tradition seems to be fading among a few Western New York schools. NeXt talked to a variety of schools in the area to gauge whether their class ring customs are still thriving.
Canisius High School has always been known for its extravagant ring ceremony, and school administrators say it is here to stay. The event traditionally takes place in the second half of junior year, usually on a weeknight in the school auditorium. The focal part of the ceremony is the Mass, when the class rings are blessed and presented to the students by the school’s principal, other school administrators, and respective homeroom advisers. It should be noted that even students who choose not to get rings are still invited to attend because Canisius provides lapel pins for those individuals. However, the vast majority of students buy rings, and the percentage has remained relativity steady over the years.
“In the last 10 years, the ring ceremony has become an event that not only focuses on juniors but has evolved into a family situation,” said Father Frederick Betti, the school’s on-campus priest and director of the Campus Ministry program, who claims that he still treasures his own high school class ring. “We encourage extended families to share in this great experience for juniors.”
Betti said he finds happiness when he hears grandparents and other family members say that the ring ceremony was the first time they have been inside the school and have experienced what Canisius does for its students. The ceremony reflects the Jesuit school’s focus on family values and the importance of family involvement in students’ academic and personal lives.
The class ring ceremony at Canisius has changed throughout the years since its inception, but about 10 years ago, Betti and school administrators solidified the notion that the event should be viewed as an important part of students’ junior year.
“We view it as a rite of passage that signifies the beginning of the end of one’s high school career and the student’s transition to college life,” Betti said. He also commented that the ceremony symbolizes the accomplishments of the junior class. A few students are invited to speak at the event, and some of those individuals discuss their experiences on Catholic immersion trips. These school-sponsored trips take junior Canisius students throughout the country and the world to rebuild houses and other structures in devastated communities.
The ceremony at Canisius is full of tradition, especially given that some Canisius families have had multiple generations of family members attend the school.
“A number of our students whose relatives went to Canisius do not get a new ring but rather are given the ring of their father or grandfather,” Betti said. “Last year, Zachary Manuszewski received his grandfather’s ring from the 1950s, and his grandfather actually presented him with his ring at the ceremony.”
Also, about three or four times, an alumnus has contacted the school to say that he would like to donate his ring to a current student who cannot afford one.
“Lastly, many years ago, one of our students spent a summer working at a nursing home in Cheektowaga for his service project, and he spent much time with an elderly woman,” Betti began recounting the story with a smile. “One day she told him that many years ago she befriended a Canisius student who attended the old Canisius High School on Washington Street. After this student graduated from high school in 1918, he enlisted in the Army during the First World War. Upon doing so, he gave her his class ring, which at that time was a simple flat ring with the student’s initials on it. The woman actually gave this Canisius student that class ring before he left at the end of the summer, and the student was presented it at his class ring ceremony.”
Betti says that stories like this one reassure him that the Canisius class ring tradition should be preserved.
Lee Haggerty is a senior at Mount Mercy Academy, which has also emphasized the junior ring ceremony throughout the years. The event takes place every year in the school’s chapel in mid-February. Students can participate by reading passages that include the history of the ring and what the seven pearls stand for in the ring: hope, charity, humility, patience, faith, obedience and joy.
The ceremony has actually been occurring for the better part of a century, and the Mercy ring has not fundamentally changed. It is recognized all over the world as the ring of the Sisters of Mercy.
“Last year, it was my turn to get a class ring, and my older sister let me have hers, which happens often at Mercy,” Lee said.
Just like at Canisius, many times a girl will receive the ring from a relative, such as an aunt, mother or grandmother.
“It was important to me to get a class ring because I really feel that I belong to the circle of Mercy, a circle that connects students at Mercy now to those who have graduated before us,” she said. “Our school emphasizes the lasting gift that the Mercy ring is.”
Lee truly believes that there is a difference in the junior class after they get their Mercy rings, considering everyone is so excited to show them off and compare the older versions from aunts or mothers to the newest editions. She has worn her ring every day since she received it; however, she added that, while most students still get rings, many do not like to wear them because they are gold, very large and are perceived as gaudy by some.
Many school rings do have a large stone in the middle and are very noticeable from far away.
Like at Canisius, a sizable portion of students cannot afford to pay for the ring, considering they cost several hundreds of dollars. “However, I think class rings are worth the expense and can repay their value many times over by providing connections later on in life,” said Lee.
Andrea Kraft is a junior at Nardin Academy who is taking part in the class ring process this year. Toward the end of every school year, usually during one of the last weeks of April and right before the seniors’ classes end, Nardin has its ceremony, which is part of a larger “Junior Weekend” that includes a religious retreat and the junior prom. The ring ceremony occurs on a Thursday after the retreat and is centered around a Mass that is held at the school. Students are thoroughly involved in both the ceremony and the Mass, and Principal Rebecca Reeder presents the rings to the students. The school’s president Marsha Joy Sullivan also plays a role in the ceremony.
Nardin only offers its students one choice for the style of the ring, but the students are able to choose the metal and the inscription within the ring. The ring features a smooth onyx stone, with the class year on one side, and 1857, the year that Nardin was founded, on the other. Additionally, one side has the lamp of knowledge on it, and the other side has the Nardin emblem.
“I wanted to get a ring because it shows unity with both my class and my school,” Andrea said. “In addition to showing unity between the members of my class and myself, the rings show unity among all Nardin students – past, present and future.”
She added that the event is really a coming-of-age ceremony that symbolizes how the junior class is moving up the metaphorical ladder to become the leaders of the school. “The rings further strengthen a bond, which Nardin has already created, that we will have and hold dear for the rest of our lives.”
Andrea believes that Nardin, unlike Mount Mercy and Canisius, does not place dramatic emphasis on rings because the purchasing of a ring and attendance at the ceremony are both optional, and the school does not encourage students one way or another. Andrea also added that she thinks class rings have indeed declined slightly in popularity in recent years, and like at Mercy, the majority of the students buy rings, but some do not wear them frequently.
Adam Wegman is a senior at Canisius who has a slightly different view on class rings from Lee and Andrea.
“I would say that the ceremony to me was more of an event celebrating the moving up of juniors rather than one that was focused on the rings themselves,” he said.
Adam did get a ring but says that it is collecting dust in his bedroom. Although he does not regret getting it, he does not wear it, mostly because he claims it is just inconvenient to have on his finger due to its size.
“I think Canisius focuses so much on the ring ceremony because one of our mottos is ‘Jesuit Preparation for College and for Life,’ ” he said. “The college part is accomplished in the classroom, but the sending-off ceremony that is the ring ceremony embodies the aspect of a Canisius education that focuses on preparing students for life and all the personal struggles and joys that come along with it.”
Public schools throughout the area also have class rings, but most do not have a class ring ceremony, considering these are often religious in nature. For example, in the Williamsville School District and at other schools in the Amherst area, students purchase school materials, such as class yearbooks, from a store called Jostens. Many public schools locally and nationally use this store. Class rings are indeed sold at this store, but since they are not encouraged or emphasized by school administrators to be purchased, most juniors do not purchase them. Class rings at public schools seem to not promote the same sense of unity that they do at private, religiously affiliated schools.
However, with tough economic times, many students are finding it increasingly hard to pay for expensive class rings. Still, most students at schools like Nardin, Mount Mercy and Canisius still purchase them. At each of these schools, the ring tradition makes all the difference for students and administrators alike, and usually promotes class unity, just a couple of years before college threatens to break the high school bonds.
Michael Khan is a junior at Canisius High School.