Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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A Tale of Two Class Rings

April 4, 2011

A Tale of Two Class Rings

Creating Lasting Memories at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: How the Class Ring Connects Students to the Campus and Alumni, and How One Alumnus Found His Long-Lost Ring 50 Years Later

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is one of only a few schools in the country where the class ring is designed solely by students. In a tradition dating back to the 1960s, students have created rings to reflect the unique history, memories, and shared experiences that are special to the class.

The Rensselaer Class of 2012 will receive their rings on April 6 during the Junior Ring Ceremony. As part of this celebration, Rensselaer graduate Juan Gonzalez, class of 1949, will share the incredible story of being reunited with his class ring after losing it more than 50 years ago on a beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The event also will feature remarks by Rensselaer President Shirley Ann Jackson.

“In my youth, the class ring represented a celebration of the fulfillment of a young man’s many ideals,” Gonzalez said. “As time went by, more and more, it became a symbol of the realization of those ideals with all the successes, failures, and memories attached.”

The first class ring at any college or university was created in 1835 for the cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  At Rensselaer, according to the Institute Archives, a local jewelry store advertised “RPI Rings” for a nominal price beginning in 1917. The rings were among several jewelry items that had the Rensselaer seal imprinted on them. Eventually, in the late 1960s, a ring committee was formed.

Today, the sophomore class assembles a committee to design the class ring each year. Committee members brainstorm and collaborate with an artist from Jostens to create the one-time design.

Set in a gold or silver antique or natural finish, the ring centerpiece includes a choice of birthstones or genuine stones in mother of pearl or black onyx. The ring also includes the Rensselaer seal on one side, while the class ring side features a collage of icons, symbols, and campus venues that serve as a lasting and permanent reminder of campus life, student experiences, friendships, and past and future achievements.

Lost and Found — The Story of Juan Gonzalez ’49
In April 2009, FedEx pilot Bill Dobbretz was on a layover in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He decided to pass the time searching for buried treasures on the beach, using a metal detector. Dobbretz was surprised to find a 1949 Rensselaer class ring with the name “Juan Gonzalez” inscribed inside. He contacted the Rensselaer Office of Alumni Relations, and told them about the 1949 class ring, which has a garnet stone and features the Rensselaer seal along with a collection of images that include a transit, microphone, and airfoil.

Dobbretz said he contacted Rensselaer because he had once lost his own class ring from his alma mater. The Rensselaer Alumni Relations team did some sleuthing and was able to locate Gonzalez, who now lives in Miami, Fla. Dobbretz cleaned up the ring and mailed it to Gonzalez.

Afterward, Gonzalez’s daughter wrote to the Rensselaer Alumni Relations office to express her family’s thanks for the return of the ring. “I just wanted to thank you for contacting my father regarding his long-lost RPI class ring. Although I was not born yet when my father lost it, to me it is an amazing story. My father holds his education at RPI very dear.”

Following the return of ring, Juan Gonzalez sent a note to Bill Dobbretz to thank him, and to shed some light on the long-lost ring. Below is an excerpt from the letter:

“When we were living in San Juan, I used to take three of my children—then 4 to 8 years old—swimming at the Caribe Hilton Hotel beach, and it was during the summer of 1958 or 1959 that, playing around with them, my ring fell off in the water about five feet deep,” Gonzalez wrote. “I dived several times desperately trying to recover it, but it had disappeared in the soft sandy bottom and, even with the help of others, I could not find it. I gave it up for lost.

“Since then, 51 years have gone by, three or four hurricanes hit the island, we moved to Mayaguez in the western part of the island, and finally to our present address in Miami, Florida. I have had the opportunity to buy a replica of the ring but did not do it because the old ring represented many memories of my life as a student at RPI, which a new ring could not replace. Now, I am 82 years old and in finding the ring you have brought back many of those lost memories.

“The ring, thanks to you, is back home, not in the 31-year-old hands of the young man who lost it but in the 82-year-old hands of the old man who received it. A whole lifetime has gone by since it was lost. I am wearing it now all the time, taking great care not to lose it again.”

The Ring That Binds: The Class of 2012 Ring
In an effort to connect students with alumni, the Junior Ring Ceremony was established in 2004. As part of the event, alumni speakers are invited to share their personal stories about their student days at Rensselaer and what their class ring means to them. Since its inception, the annual program is a collaboration between the class, the Division of Student Life, and the Rensselaer Alumni Association.

On April 6, members of the Class of 2012 will open their ring cases and put on their rings. The ring ceremony will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. on the Rensselaer Troy campus in the Heffner Alumni House. Already, the Class of 2012 has proved to be an exceptional group with more than 65 percent of the students coming from the top 10 percent of their high school classes; and nearly 400 women — the largest number of females enrolled in the last three years.

The Class of 2012 includes a published author since the age of 9, the 2007 Champion in the Junior Iditarod dog sled race, a national judo champion, an internationally ranked synchronized figure skater, a ballerina who has performed at the Kennedy Center, and 151 legacies – students with relatives who attended the university.

“The ring marks the transition of the Class of 2012 from students to future alumni,” said Jeff Schanz, assistant vice president of alumni relations. “While the ring is a symbol of their pride, spirit, and memories of Rensselaer, it will also serve as a lasting reminder of their life at Rensselaer long after graduation.”

To read more about Juan Gonzalez ’49, visit:


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About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Founded in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is America’s first technological research university. Rensselaer encompasses five schools, 32 research centers, more than 145 academic programs, and a dynamic community made up of more than 7,600 students and more than 100,000 living alumni. Rensselaer faculty and alumni include more than 145 National Academy members, six members of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, six National Medal of Technology winners, five National Medal of Science winners, and a Nobel Prize winner in Physics. With nearly 200 years of experience advancing scientific and technological knowledge, Rensselaer remains focused on addressing global challenges with a spirit of ingenuity and collaboration.