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Keep it Simple, Stupid

Stephen Form

When compared with our neighbors down the street and other top schools around the country, MIT has a certain irreverence for tradition. One might attribute this fact to MIT’s sense of innovation and creativity. However, I would like to call out one tradition I feel has been tinkered with far too much in recent years: our school’s fabled brass rat.

We are told that the rat is the most recognizable class ring on the planet. And why not? Its bulkiness and, some would say, ugliness, has a certain charm. Cliches aside, it instantly confers upon the wearer membership into an exclusive club. Many times I have heard of friends identifying alumni and fellow students on planes, in lines, and on the street, simply because they were wearing a brass rat.

For years, the design has remained the same: the beaver on top of a mat of sticks on the bezel, two shanks with the dome, one with the class year, and one with the name of our school. Now, with recent marketing by the ringmakers, the classes have begun a tradition of appointing ring committees to impart some individuality on their ring.

Ring committees have drawn the ire of many students for their choices. No doubt, they are under intense scrutiny from their respective classes. They will produce a design for an item that many students will wear for a lifetime. I have tremendous respect for the time they dedicate to their charge.

However, in the rush to create an unique rat for their class, many ring committees have gone overboard. Rings are now inundated with symbols representing everything from new buildings to snow days, from scientific discoveries to memorializing an old Rush and inaugurating a new one. There are many problems with this approach to ring design. I will outline only a few here.

First, these events all take place during the first year and a half of one’s time at MIT. The ring committees talk a great deal about representing our experiences as classes here, yet the most fond memories we will have of MIT oftentimes will be during our junior and senior years. How can one claim that this ring will embody our experiences at this school when one is not even halfway through hell?

I will again bring up the idea of “representing our experiences as classes here.” An effort is made to ensure that members of the ring committee are chosen to represent a diverse set of students at MIT. The current controversy regarding Kappa Alpha Theta notwithstanding, ring committee members certainly will never reflect the large proportion of each class that has no desire to be on such a committee. As a common example, there are two references to Rush on my rat, yet I know many of my friends who did not participate. The simple truth is that it is nearly impossible to represent the experiences of an entire class. I prefer the approach of using the agreed upon symbols of the beaver, the dome, and the seal.

Finally, I would like to bring up a note about longevity. These rings come with lifetime warranties and with good reason: these are meant to be worn or kept forever. The ring must be designed not only for ourselves now, but also for ourselves many years from now. I envision a child of mine looking at my ring one day, just as I looked at my father’s many years ago. When he or she asks what all the stuff on my ring means, I do not want to have to refer back to some brochure and recite some explanation as to what that hand coming out of the river symbolizes or why there is a dove on the seal shank. Heaven forbid I should lose the brochure.

As a member of the class of 2005, I already possess a class ring and I must say that amid my disappointment with the trends in recent years, I was sufficiently happy with the design’s tameness. However, ring committees are on a mission year after year to best previous efforts and provide as many symbols as possible to occupy every engravable surface of their rats.

I realize I will not stop all symbols from being placed on the ring and a return to the traditions of old is but wishful thinking. Realistically, I hope that ring committees of the future will think hard about each and every embellishment they place on their brass rat. I hope they consider how not only the members of their class will feel about each symbol now, but how they will feel ten or 40 years from now. I hope they make these rings such that all members of their respective classes would feel proud to wear one.

Stephen Form is a member of the class of 2005.