By Gary Appleby ‘90
In the early days of March 1923, the senior class at Norwich University adopted one of the most cherished of all university traditions—the Norwich University Corps of Cadets class ring. While the adoption of a formally recognized class ring tradition had been discussed by several prior classes, it was the Class of 1923 which finally acted. A committee of three cadets drafted a set of rules regarding the style and wearing of the ring, approved by President Charles Albert Plumley and the Board of Trustees, with the intent that each subsequent graduating class would embrace the tradition.
Originally the privilege of wearing the class ring belonged only to the senior class shortly before commencement. Over the next decade, the tradition transitioned to the junior class. It became part of Junior Week, a tradition that started in 1913 and typically took place in early spring. Junior Week was once an extravaganza of athletic contests, exhibitions, fraternity parties, performances, and a formal dance known as “Junior Prom.” Today’s Junior Weekend carries on the tradition with a ball and ring ceremony.
The original ring design took its inspiration from what is believed to be the first college ring tradition in America: West Point’s class ring, created in 1835. Characterized as a “heavy gold affair,” the first Norwich rings were all identical: gold with a synthetic ruby, representative of the university colors. Echoing the design used at West Point, one side depicts the university seal, and the other the class year of the person wearing it. Encircling the bezel are the words “Norwich University.” By the mid-1960s, a policy for standardization of the ring design was in place, and while the basic features that identify the ring as uniquely Norwich remain, each class has left its own distinctive mark—adding and subtracting design elements, and increasing the size and weight of the ring over time.
In 1990, a ring tradition was started for the civilian student population, with a crest and design developed especially for them in 1995. And beginning in 2004, graduates of the College of Graduate and Continuing Studies also embraced the tradition, celebrating their rings during their annual residency conference in June.
While the ring has evolved since 1923, the meaning it holds for those who wear it has only strengthened with the passage of time. It is a symbol representing the trials of each person who has earned the honor of wearing it, and is the physical embodiment of those intangibles—the principles, values, and virtues—that every Norwich graduate carries with them throughout their life. It identifies each Norwich alumnus/a as a link in the chain that connects each class to every other class, and it is a personal compass that always points back to the Hill. And it is very likely the Class of 1923 would still consider it a “heavy gold affair.”