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A Symbol of the MIT Experience

Rose Grabowski

It is most definitely the nature of MIT students to complain. Constantly. About their classes, their lack of sleep, their pset that only has two questions but parts (a) through (m) on each, their annoying roommate, and their acceptance letter to a state school that they should have taken a little more seriously.

It seems that with each year here, undergraduates become more and more entrenched in this spiral of self-pity and disgust at their lives. But really there are a few milestones within those four years that seem to keep us sane and above water. One is graduation and finally being done with this place. The other is getting your brass rat.

The brass rat is a symbol of what you have accomplished so far, what you have to look forward to, and what you will accomplish when you leave campus. When you are a freshman, you look with envy to the upperclassmen’s fingers wrapped in shiny yellow. You know that you’ve got a long road ahead to finishing your turn in the Institute, but there’s a concrete item and experience to look forward to, to keep you plugging away at your work day in and day out.

As a sophomore, you whisper with anticipation to your classmates about what will be on your year’s design -- man? woman? IHTFP? Will the beaver look happy? sad? aroused? This anticipation is culminated at ring premiere, where 700 fellow second years cram into Walker to finally see the design revealed.

Not everyone is happy, of course. Some will like the seal, some will like the beaver, some will hate the skylines, some will detest the details or the exact interpretation of each little symbol, and others may have the exact opposite opinion on each of these counts. Every year this has happened and every year it will continue. But isn’t it amazing that those strong feelings exist, that people actually care that much about the rat to spend hours talking about it with their friends, send around e-mails discussing the issues, and create Web sites to gauge opinion? Isn’t that a huge testament to how integral the brass rat is to our MIT undergraduate experience?

And then ring delivery comes and all those issues and concerns are forgotten. Twenty-year-old nerds are turned into giddy school children as they race in line to receive a tiny black box with a big chunk of gold inside. The sense of accomplishment is vibrant in the air. From then on, each student with that shiny new brass rat feels an even closer connection with the Institute.

Then, after getting their rings, these students progress through the rest of their four years looking for employment -- and everyone has heard at least one story of a recruiter shaking someone’s hand, turning it over, seeing the brass rat, and being noticeably impressed. My own father was told “you’ve got the job” as soon as one interviewer saw his ring.

But job searches are not the only places it comes in handy -- in airports, at dinners, in the park, you will periodically be stopped by someone who notices your rat and either went to MIT or holds a great deal of respect for our institution. The MIT brass rat is the most recognized college ring in the world. No other school has this distinctive shape and design. The pride and achievement associated with it only furthers the value of our ring tradition.

Some argue that the brass rat is really just a tool for corporations to take our money. “ArtCarved is making a killing with these rings.” Yeah, right. A simple calculation: a 14K medium-sized ring costs $363 this year. Take away the 7.5 percent licensing fee that MIT charges, $50 per ring in marketing costs (this goes directly to the RingComm budget for premiere, delivery, etc.) and the cost of the pure gold, about $122. This leaves ArtCarved with about $160, and the costs of metal refinement, manufacturing, design, sales, repair, and warranty haven’t even been taken into account. It’s likely they barely even come out ahead. With siladium rings, as soon as you take out the licensing and marketing fees from the $55 cost of the ring, they are already negative, not even counting the metal or any other costs. Consider as well that the Harvard ring costs an average of about $200 more than ours. The only reason ArtCarved or any other company even wants to make our ring is for the huge prestige in their business of saying that they make the MIT brass rat.

Last weekend my older sister Holly came into town with her fiancÉ. As we sat to lunch at a typical Chinatown eatery, she looked down at her left hand with a deep sigh. The diamond on her finger is quite large, and she smiled thoughtfully as she contemplated through love-abated, half-closed eyes. Holly said to me, “You know, I never thought I would want a big diamond. Or even a diamond at all.” Holly had spent a year and a half with no home, traveling as a nomad all over the world, all of her belongings on her back, before she became a yoga instructor in Seattle. I hadn’t thought she would want a diamond, either. “But, you know, when he offered me this, I really understood why people like big engagement rings. It isn’t to be showy to other people, to shove it in their faces. It’s because when I glance around the room the sparkle of the diamond catches my eye, and it reminds me of my hunny. It is a constant reminder of his love for me and my love for him, our too brief past and our wonderful future.” We may not “love” MIT, let alone call it our “hunny,” but the brass rat is really a symbol of the huge feat we have accomplished. It is something that will be a constant reminder of how strong each of us really is.