The Citadel and the Fellowship of THE Ring

The Ring
photo by Stanley Leary

When I was 13 years old my brother gave me The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. Years later my oldest son became interested in the tales of J.R.R. Tolkien. The books involve a tale of the One Ring that controls the others.

Years later I was struck at the similarities and differences between the One Ring and The Ring the senior cadets at The Citadel receive their senior year. The One Ring is one of power over people. The Citadel ring that a graduate wears is also one of power. The Citadel ring’s strength is in the power of friendship forged through the tough training the cadets endure over their four years. The power of The Citadel ring goes beyond the graduates and in many cases influences the families of the one who wears the ring.

One of the most moving accounts of the bond forged by the graduates who wear the ring is told by Pat Conroy. He told this story in his book, My Losing Season, and he also told the story in his commencement address in 2001. I can’t read the story without tears welling up in my eyes. Talk to many graduates and their families and they can tell you their own story of the Ring. In her book In the Company of Men, Nancy Mace details her father’s story of recovering his lost ring in the swampy fields of Vietnam.

Two weeks from now the Class of 2013 will receive their rings. It is a huge weekend for seniors and their families. My son used to say that the ring, and what it symbolizes, is more important to him than his diploma. Everyone who graduates from a college or university gets a diploma. Not everyone can earn the right to wear The Citadel Ring.

Over the past five years I have had the privilege to see what the power of this ring can do. As the chair of the Georgia Citadel Parents Group for a few years I had the honor of witnessing the kindness of the members of the Atlanta Citadel Club when they heard a cadet was in need. One had trouble meeting the out-of-state tuition and was helped by a graduate. Another family had a crisis and weren’t sure they could get their cadet home, the alumni offered to pay for a flight. If a knob needed a ride back to campus from Georgia I just posted the need and within minutes offers to help would pour in.

This giving nature also applies to the families of the cadets. A family suffered the death of a grandparent. Their cadet couldn’t afford to travel to the funeral. A ticket arrived in the mail paid for by another family who heard of their need. When a cadet or graduate is deployed the moral support for the family of the soldier pours in.

Each year cadets and graduates are sent overseas to war. When one Citadel Mom learned that current cadets were going to war she founded The Citadel Heroes Project. Volunteers donate items and cards that are sent to the deployed cadets and graduates a few times a year. It is a huge effort that means so much to the recipients.

A young graduate died just months after graduation and before he reported to his first duty station. The roommate of the deceased was left behind to tie up the loose ends. A few of us attended the memorial service in Summerall Chapel. I was asked to read a poem during the service on behalf of the Citadel Family Association. A few of us moms learned it was difficult for the surviving roommate to go to the mail box each day and see mail to his deceased classmate/roommate/good friend. The Citadel Moms each took a week and sent baked goods gift cards for coffee shops and food. For eight weeks the surviving roommate went to his mailbox to find these gifts of love and support from his Citadel Moms.

Recently it was brought to the attention of a group of alumni that a few seniors, due to a number of circumstances, couldn’t afford to pay off the balance on their rings. Within a matter of hours alumni of all types, young and old, male and female, came together to donate the money needed to pay off the rings for these deserving seniors. When parents of current cadets and graduates heard of this effort, they too wanted to help. It was an amazing show of support by the members of The Citadel family. On October 12 the qualified cadets will receive their rings with the rest of their class.

Wearing the ring is something I will never experience. It was my son and his classmates that proved they were worthy of the honor of joining the Long Gray Line of graduates. They are family, not just classmates. I can tell you being a family member of the person who wears the ring makes you part of their extended Citadel family.

Pat Conroy used the sentence “I wear the ring.” in The Lords of Discipline to summarize the importance of his time at The Citadel and the bond he shares with others who wear the ring. The cadets who went through the rigors of the 4th Class System understand that sentence differently than any one else who reads it.

The parents and family members of the cadets and graduates can only get glimpses of what it means.

Bravo ’11 wear the ring. Photo by Stanley Leary

A group of friends who met through their cadets time at The Citadel.
photo by Stanley Leary

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10 Responses

  1. Mrs. Griggs,

    Thank you for this article. I am a current student at The Citadel Graduate College working my way towards a MBA degree. I was not an undergraduate Cadet at The Citadel but I have supreme respect for these men & women. I know several Citadel graduates and can honestly say that this institution produces quality, honest, intelligent, honorable leaders. The influence of these graduates and the school’s reputation and academic standings were the reasons I chose to pursue my MBA at The Citadel. To that end, I hold the institution in VERY high regard.

    My new association with the institution has made me acutely aware of The Band of Gold. Also, in knowing my Citadel friends, I recognize that it symbolizes to current Cadets and baccalaureate graduates four full years of enduring training and academics to earn the right to wear it. It truly is a “Lord of the Rings,” so to speak, and Citadel men and women guard their rings with cherished reverence. Which brings me to the reason for my post: I have not endured those undergraduate years but am desirous of proudly wearing the non-Cadet ring and supporting the school and it’s graduates as best I can. There really isn’t any way to be associated with The Citadel and not be prideful of all that it represents, it’s grand history, and of the personal achievements and challenges one overcomes while in attendance – in whatever capacity, Cadet or non-Cadet. My concern is this: by wearing the non-Cadet ring, am I treading on sacred ground? Am I unintentionally tarnishing a cherished honor and diluting something the Cadet graduates hold so dear?

    As much as I’d like to, I can’t reverse time and enroll as an undergraduate; my baccalaureate days culminated in a Finance degree from Columbus State University, Columbus, GA some 10 years ago. However, by wearing the non-Cadet ring, I don’t want to portray disrespect to Cadets – who have earned their rings in a vastly different way – while simultaneously be looked upon negatively by those graduate Cadets as some type of tag-along or parasite looking to latch-on to their traditions. It is not necessary for me to fully know or understand all they go through to earn their rings for me to have respect for the process and challenges. It must be said though, I have no doubt that through the academic rigors of The Citadel Graduate College and the MBA program, I will most definitely earn my ring as well. I’m just curious as to the overall view the graduates hold for this non-Cadet ring. What is the scuttlebutt? What are your thoughts and opinions? What are your son’s thoughts and opinions? Again, my intention is to bring pride and honor and to show all who see the non-Cadet ring, my support and admiration for The Citadel; but I don’t want to be looked at negatively by The Corp.

    Your response is welcomed and appreciated – as are those of others who would like to comment.

    Kindest regards,

    Jason M. Smallwood, CCIM
    Pre-MBA Candidate: The Citadel Graduate College
    The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina
    Email: jsmallwo@citadel.edu

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    • Thank you for your note, Jason.

      Since I am not a graduate, I cannot really speak for them. I have asked a few friends who are current cadets and graduates to read your comments and share their opinions.

      I hope you will hear from a few folks.

      Best wishes to you in your studies.
      Dorie

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  2. Jason,

    Depending on the alumnus you talk to, you will get varying responses from indifference to down right opposition. This is mostly due to thier lack of knowledge of the history of both the Cadet ring and the Non cadet ring.

    Prior to World War II only cadets attended The Citadel and the 1940 ring regulations only provided for cadet graduates to receive the ring. Following the war, The Citadel gratefully opened its doors to returning veteran students. The Citadel was in need of matriculates to keep the doors open, the corps having shrunk to only a few hundred cadets, and the vast majority of these returning veteran students had been ex-cadets. Although some veterans chose to return as cadets, others did not and although the Central Ring Committee did not amend the regulations to extend the ring privilege to these veteran students, as they graduated, they were permitted to purchase and wear the ring under the same conditions that applied to cadets.

    Following the Korean War a second wave of veteran students attended The Citadel and those who had been ex-cadets, while not as great as they had been following World War II still made up a good proportion. Ex-cadet veteran students of the Vietnam era however were a minority. In 1966, The Citadel established the Evening College whose graduates would include women. Would they also get the standard cadet ring?

    The members of the Corps became increasingly aware that the standards in obtaining what was originally intended as a cadet ring were becoming dilute. The members of the Ring and Invitation Committee of the class of 1974 brought the issue to attention of the Central Ring Committee, which established a Ring Study Committee to explore solutions to the problem.

    The Ring Study Committee did not take long to arrive at a two-ring solution – the standard cadet ring and a different ring for all other graduates – a “Non-Cadet Ring.” The Alumni Association concurred in the concept of a second ring and asked the Study Committee to proceed with the design. The design is described on the CAA website.
    ————
    “Whereas The Citadel Cadet Ring displays the symbols and traditions of the Military College of South Carolina Corps of Cadets. The Non-Cadet Ring displays actual campus buildings and monuments that are a constant reminder of the ideals of a military college. For if The Citadel is not a military college, it is nothing. The non-Cadet student or graduate understands that it is an honor and privilege to be associated with The Military College of South Carolina, as a graduate of The Citadel Graduate College.
    The Non-Cadet Ring is authorized for purchase by veteran, undergraduate evening college and graduate (Master’s Degree) evening college students who graduate honorably from the Citadel Graduate College. Like the Cadet Ring, the Non-Cadet Ring can only be purchased in 10K yellow gold and is of the same pennyweight and size of the Cadet Ring. The Non-Cadet Ring is a standardized ring, which cannot be ordered with any variation, except for class year. Standardization brings two things to the importance of the ring design. First, the ring does not denote an individual graduate but a Citadel Graduate. Second, the ring can be recognized by anyone since it is of the same design from year to year, graduate to graduate.

    Upon immediate glance, the Non-Cadet ring simply displays “The Citadel, 1842”. The oval crest top of the Non-Cadet Ring displays the palmetto tree- the state tree of South Carolina and is symbolic of a fort on Sullivan’s Island built from palmetto logs, which successfully resisted many British men-of-war during the Revolutionary War. To the non-Cadet graduate it represents palmetto trees that were so abundant in the area during the founding of the college in 1842. The year of non-Cadet graduation is displayed along the sides of the palmetto tree. The two oval shields at the base of the palmetto tree are miniature replicas of the state shield. The shield inscriptions are accurate and readable with a low power glass.

    On the left shank of the Non-Cadet Ring the star commemorates the shelling of the union supply steamer “The Star of the West” and memorializes all those Citadel cadets, veterans, and graduates who have died in defense of their country. Lesesne Gate, the Main Gate of The Citadel campus, is named after Thomas P. Lesesne, class of 1901. On the Non-Cadet Ring, the closed Lesesne Gate represents the humbling and difficult academic task that Non-Cadet students must endure to become a wearer of the “Band of Gold”- The Non-Cadet Ring of The Citadel. The closed gate also represents the inability of the non-Cadet student to understand the total mystique and the complete tradition that, in part, is gained by cadet students. And after 4 years in the Corps, even the most insightful of cadets may never grasp the mystery in total. Indeed, much of what a Citadel graduate gains will never be understood outside the gates of The Citadel. The United States and South Carolina colors on each side of the gate depict the unity and coordination between the state and federal government. The gate inscription The Military College of South Carolina, although appropriately unnoticeable to anyone except the wearer, is also accurate and readable with low power glass. To serve as a constant reminder of the city of their alma mater, Charleston S.C. appears on the bottom of this shank.
    On the right shank of the Non-Cadet Ring, the most prominent feature is the Eagle atop Bond Hall, another campus landmark. On the Great Seal of the United States, the Eagle is facing toward the olive leaves, the symbol of peace; whereas the Bond Hall Eagle faces to the left toward the arrows, the symbol of war. One reason for this may be that The Citadel is a military college. Another reason could be the legend of the Bond Hall Eagle. The legend is traditional information that must be memorized by new incoming cadets (known collectively as part of Knob Knowledge/ first year indoctrination).

    Like the Non-Cadet Ring, which must be purchased in yellow gold, the Eagle is painted gold also as a requirement. It was originally unpainted, being the color of concrete. In the 1950’s, however, some cadets snuck up on the roof of Bond Hall and painted the eagle pink. The physical plant could not get the paint off so General Clark, President of The Citadel at that time, decided to paint it gold. It is made of stucco and plaster of paris and weighs four hundred pounds, four feet by four feet. To the Non-Cadet, the Eagle atop Bond Hall represents becoming a graduate, above reproach and dishonor. A Citadel graduate, like the Eagle, must always rise above typical college graduates and form a strong moral character of integrity and service to country.

    With the Daniel Library and Summerall Chapel buildings in the background of the Eagle, the Non-Cadet graduate is reminded of the beautiful architecture of the college. The library becomes the most important resource in Non-Cadet graduate degree research.
    In 1985, approval was granted for purchase by all non-Cadets including master’s degree graduates. In keeping with tradition, the Alumni Association has assumed the approval process for purchase following the completion of degree requirements. Although there have been attempts to redesign an alternate non-Cadet ring for non-Cadet graduates, the design that has been honored since the 1970’s is current. Therefore, The Citadel has only two official designed rings that are authorized for purchase from The Citadel Alumni Association (a cadet and a non-Cadet ring). This continues the tradition of The Citadel Ring being instantly recognizable to fellow graduates. It remains a simple link from past to present, from present to future for those that have earned the right to wear the “Band of Gold” and to affirm “I wear the Ring”.”
    ———-

    The “Non-Cadet Ring” was introduced to the graduates of the Class of 1974 without fan-fare. Today the graduates of the Marine Enlisted Commissoning Education Program and the Seaman to Admiral 21 program recieve the non cadet ring and more and more graduates of the Graduate College are purchasing the non cadet ring.

    In 1975, The Citadel allowed women graduates of the Evening College to purchase the miniature cadet ring since no miniature of the non-cadet ring existed at that time.

    When it came time for the first women cadets to purchase their rings, they were at first told that they would purchase the miniature cadet ring. They would have none of that! They had “taken the road less traveled” and deserved and demanded a ring of equal stature and detail to that of their fellow male cadets. They were unwilling to accept a ring traditionally reserved for wives, girlfriends, or mothers. A group of upperclass women met with representatives of the ring manufacture at that time and the Citadel Alumni Association to work out the details for a Citadel cadet ring that was suitable for women’s smaller hands. The women’s cadet ring, while smaller than the male cadet ring contains the same amount of detail and is distinct from the citadel miniature ring.

    Bottom line is that if you chose to purchase a Citadel ring, yours will reflect your Citadel experience and achievement.

    regards,

    Steven Smith, MA
    CAA Historian
    steven.smith@citadel.edu

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  3. Jason-

    First, please let me congratulate you on selecting an amazing college to pursue your graduate degree. Although I may be a bit biased, you chose the very best. The Citadel Graduate College is just as worthy of praise and recognition as the undergraduate program.

    I am a 1989 Cadet Alumnus. I have worn my Citadel Ring every day since it went on my finger in October of 1988. It has been all around the world, even into war zones. I wear my Ring with the utmost pride and honor.

    I wear my Ring, not so that others can recognize me as a Citadel graduate. I wear it as a reminder to myself of what I can accomplish. I wear it as a reminder of the standards that I should live up to. I wear it in honor of men and women, far greater than myself, who have also worn it. At the end of the day, I wear it for ME!

    I am glad that The Citadel offers a Ring for our non-Cadet graduates, day, evening, and graduate. The Citadel is much more than a cadet program of instruction. Our veteran students, active military students, evening students, and graduate students contribute greatly to our continued success and overall survival. In 2012, The Citadel could not exist, financially or as a true educational institution without those non-cadet programs. So, without you all, I probably would not have had the opportunity to earn the Ring on my finger.

    Will some alumni scorn your decision to wear a Citadel Ring? Sure. It would be a huge disservice to you and your pride in The Citadel, as well as your achievement, if you let other folks sway you from doing what is right for you. Let me be candid in letting you in on a secret: We have alumni who think that some other Cadet Alumni should not wear their Ring either. We give these folks no attention or energy. I have never put on my Ring for someone else’s benefit. I damn sure won’t take it off for their benefit either.

    In closing, I am honored that you, or anyone else, would want to wear a Citadel Ring. The fact that you can symbolizes that you have earned that right. It also bestows upon you an obligation to wear it with pride and dignity, as you would be representing OUR beloved institution.

    All the best, and good luck with the rest of your educational pursuits. Always remember that the Ring does not make you who you are. It symbolizes who you should always strive to be.

    Go Bulldogs!

    Paul R. Tamburrino ’89
    District 10 Director
    The Citadel Alumni Association
    Miami, FL

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  4. Steven,

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and insight on the matter, this was very helpful! Who better to ask about such things as the historian, right?

    In my research of the non-Cadet ring, I found the webpage you referenced above and must have nearly memorized it by now. However, in reading the description once more in your post, I stumbled on a line that applies perfectly: “The closed gate also represents the inability of the non-Cadet student to understand the total mystique and the complete tradition that, in part, is gained by cadet students.” It appears that the designers had already addressed my issue – if only I’d paid closer attention!

    I was trying to get a sense, in aggregate, as to how Cadet alumni feel about persons sporting the non-Cadet ring, but the bottom line really is that any given Cadet alumnus will have their own opinions. I suppose to those in opposition to the ring I need only to point to the closed Lesesne Gate as understanding and acknowledgement that I respectfully stand on the outside of those Cadet-earned traditions. You’re right, in the end the ring will hold special meaning to me as a reminder of my accomplishments and pride in having attended The Citadel Graduate College and my association with The Citadel.

    In my pursuits to learn more about the institution, I’m sure our paths will cross again. Thanks again, Steven!

    Dorie, thank you for hosting this site and helping those associated with The Citadel an outlet to find answers to our questions! I’ll be sure to check in regularly!

    Merry Christmas!

    Jason

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  5. […] of the Military College of South Carolina. Some say the fellowship between the graduates who wear the ring is stronger than any bond out there. I have experienced this bond in a variety of […]

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  6. […] Each fall on the campus of The Citadel a ritual takes place during Parent’s Weekend. The seniors receive their hard-earned rings. I wrote about this tradition last year in a blog post, The Citadel and the Fellowship of THE Ring. […]

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  7. […] the campus of The Citadel for Parents’ Weekend. The class of 2016 will receive their rings (THE Ring) Friday afternoon and the Class of 2019 will go through a promotion ceremony Saturday morning. They […]

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  8. […] “adopted” cadets that I’ve become close to. Several 2016 cadet friends received their rings both Friday afternoon then also on Monday. I enjoyed visiting with their […]

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