I remember two men coming into my senior year homeroom and pitching their case for class rings. It was a father and son duo and I have to admit the son was a solid 8/10.
“You’ll always cherish it,” the son — I think his name was Trey, said. As he spoke, a twenty slide, clip art-filled PowerPoint began. My first thought was that the rings looked super gaudy, but the excitement of my friends began to rub off on me.
By the time the presentation had finished, my gullible, innocent, and possibly lust-induced mind was made up, “I have to get a class of 2014 ring.” This lasted a total of two minutes as soon as I received the brochure.
“Nope,” I whispered under my breath.
As soon as I saw that a class ring was going to cost me almost $200, it was a no-brainer. I knew I still had to pay for my cap and gown. At this point, I had not received any scholarships and was extremely worried about paying for college. I was working night shifts at Harris Teeter just to save money. I knew that $200 could go a long way if I scoured Amazon for my textbooks.
“Nope,” I repeated.
On my way out of the classroom, I tossed the brochure in the trash, took a second glance at Trey, and headed to the cafeteria for lunch.
Months later all of my more well-to-do friends picked up their rings, promptly put them on their hands, and began blinding fellow classmates with their corresponding birthstones. At this point, I had received a substantial scholarship from QuestBridge to attend the University of Virginia and I gave zero you-know-whats about class rings.
Fast forward a few years and I was suddenly going into my third-year here at UVA. I was the most optimistic and at peace that I had been in a while. “Half my sentence is up,” I joked to my friends.
When I saw the Balfour fliers advertising class rings around Grounds, I knew I had to get one no matter the cost. No, this wasn’t because my friends were getting theirs, or because the salesman was wildly attractive, or because I loved UVA; it was because I was proud to still be here.
I come from a small school in rural North Carolina where most of the graduates don’t make it to a four-year university. The few that do make it usually end up dropping out after the first year due to financial limitations.
“Yes,” I thought to myself. I deserve this.”
I went to the order table, picked out my ring and all the details, filled out my credit card information, and I am still paying it off bit by bit. As I sat through an unimpressive ring ceremony this past Saturday, a tinge of guilt began to grow. My senior year self looked on with disgust:
“What about your peers who couldn’t afford a ring? There needs to be justice! Why can’t these rings be free? We all deserve (especially those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds like myself) the honor of wearing a class ring!”
As these thoughts swirled violently through my head. I missed the speakers, I missed the Virginia Gentleman, I murmured the “Good Ole Song” along with everyone else, waited in line, picked up my ring, and then walked home.
Talking to my peers, it seemed that the cost was the number one reason why people couldn’t or chose not to get class rings. I’m thankful for the twenty ring scholarships that were given out. A few of my friends received them, but it’s simply not enough.
Yet again, my class has been split into two groups: those who have the money and those who don’t. You can see the split for yourself. Just look at our hands.
It’s frustrating, it’s unfair, and it’s another example of privilege at our university. It’s a privilege I (and many others) have to carry whether we realize it or not.
Tyler Cox is a third-year whose birthstone is asbestos.