Clemson University Feature Stories

The Clemson Ring — steeped in tradition

By Matt Reiss
Class of 2013

In one of their last big moments at Clemson University, many seniors cross the Littlejohn Coliseum stage to receive their Clemson ring just months before they return to that same stage to receive their diploma. At a University steeped in tradition, the Clemson ring — and its accompanying ceremony — are perhaps two of the most memorable and recognizable traditions.

Clemson class rings always seem to connect alumni far beyond graduation. Brett Becker ’11 was at a restaurant in New Jersey when a man approached him and said, “Go Tigers!”

“He noticed my ring and showed me his ring from decades ago, and we got to talking about Clemson and our experience,” Becker said. “While we were talking, we noticed a plaque on the wall of the restaurant where a customer from long ago had made a donation and inscribed ‘Go Clemson Tigers’ on it. It was an incredible coincidence and was great to see that the Clemson Family is everywhere.”

First issued in 1896, the early Clemson rings differ somewhat from what students receive now. In 1901, the “C” palmetto and year first appeared, quickly followed in 1906 when the student ring committee added an eagle with a blank shield. The final notable change occurred in 1927 when the name of the school was added, which was later modified when Clemson Agricultural College became Clemson University.

Big behind-the-scenes changes have occurred quite recently. In the past, Barnes & Noble and the Clemson Bookstore had the responsibility of the ring’s sales and marketing.

But the Alumni Association saw an opportunity for some positive change by adopting sole responsibility of sales and marketing for the ring while continuing to uphold the history and tradition of the official Clemson class ring, according to Michele Cauley ’93, M ’04, director of marketing and communications for the association. After a thorough analysis and bid process, the Clemson Alumni Association took over the process last August and selected a new vendor, Balfour, to be exclusive manufacturer of the ring.

“One of Balfour’s main advantages was that they wanted to build a tradition around the Clemson ring and devote resources to invest in marketing and sales of the ring,” Cauley said. “The quality and service of Balfour are exceptional, and they are currently the ring provider for most of the ACC schools.”

The association takes great pride in the increase in ring sales, and since the new partnership has developed this past year ring sales have increased. According to Randy Boatwright, director of business development and facilities, Clemson ranked No. 7 nationally last year in sales but in just a year’s time has made a significant jump in the rankings. Clemson is now situated No. 4 in sales behind West Point, Texas A&M and the University of Texas.

“Our goal is to eventually become second in the rankings,” Boatwright said. “We would like to go ahead of the University of Texas, and Balfour has been great in helping us.”

All of this work and preparation will culminate in the Ring Ceremony, which is held this year at 7 p.m. on Oct. 8, in Littlejohn Coliseum. The ceremony is a relatively new tradition and is one that is hosted by both the Alumni Association and the Student Alumni Council. The first ceremony was held during the 2001-02 academic year in a much smaller gathering.

Thanks to the tremendous Clemson pride that resonates throughout the University, the Ring Ceremony has become a community event that is now a major rite of passage for graduates. Because of increased interest and attendance, the ceremony was moved this past January from its location at the Owen Pavilion at the Madren Center to its current location at Littlejohn Coliseum. This new venue helps to accommodate all the students who want to attend as well as provides ample room for friends and family.

One of the major reasons attendance has increased greatly is because of the Alumni Association’s new distribution method, which began last semester.

“Students must now wait until the ring ceremony to get their ring or pick it up afterward,” said Grace Clayton, senior and ring chair for the Student Alumni Council. “This is to encourage more students to take part in the Ring Ceremony, one of the many wonderful traditions we have here at Clemson University.” This was an idea that was fully supported by President James F. Barker.

Clayton expects close to a thousand students to attend the ceremony. All attendees are in for an entertaining evening. President Barker will make some remarks and present each student with his or her class ring. One of the most memorable portions of the night is when Colonel Ben Skardon, Class of ’38, speaks to the audience and tells his story about when his class ring saved his life during the Bataan Death March of World War II.

Additionally, Historian Jerry Reel and Alumni Association President Ann Hunter will speak at the ceremony. The audience can also expect a performance by TigerRoar, the all-male a cappella group on campus. The Class of 2013 is certainly excited to be part of another chapter in one of the most prestigious traditions here at Clemson.

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