By Brandon O'Connor
Assistant EditorHolding the small black box in his hand, it hit Class of 2019 Cadet Ethan Press just what he had been through in his first three years at the U.S. Military Academy.Hidden in that box was the class ring, a "crass mass of brass and glass," that would serve as a lifelong reminder of his time at West Point and a permanent marker of his place in the Long Gray Line. For now though, he simply had to hold the box and wait for the order that would allow him and his classmates to see their rings for the first time and place it on their right ring finger."It was an incredible feeling, especially when you get the box, you're holding it and waiting for them to give the order to put it on," Press said. "I could really feel all the time I have been here build up and feel it in the ring. It represents the bonds I have with my classmates. These are my best friends I will have for the rest of my life."The members of the Class of 2019 received their rings Aug. 24 during the Ring Ceremony at Trophy Point marking the beginning of their final year at West Point. The 1,082 members of the class were surrounded by family, friends and alumni as they received their rings following a speech by Commandant of Cadets Brig. Gen. Steve Gilland."It was amazing," Class of 2019 Cadet Olivia Smith said of receiving her ring. "It was everything we have worked for to this point all coming together. To me, the ring means everything I have worked so hard to accomplish and everything I am going to work hard to accomplish in the future. It is a symbol of everything we have come through together and everything we are going to go through in the future."The class ring has been a tradition at West Point since 1835. In 2000, the West Point Association of Graduates added another tradition to the ceremony with the annual ring melt. Each year, the rings of graduates, most of whom are deceased, are donated and melted into the gold used to make the rings for the current class. This year, 69 rings were donated and included in the gold used to make the Class of 2019's rings, the most donated rings in the 18-year history of the program."It is absolutely mesmerizing," Class of 2019 Cadet Chan Kim said of the ring melt. "It is such a unique culture and tradition. It is so great to have 69 members of the Long Gray Line award this to us and connect that bond. We have never met them, but just knowing their Long Gray Line continues on is mesmerizing."Among the 69 rings donated this year, nine belonged to members of the 50-year affiliate class, the Class of 1969, and two belonged to members of the 100-year affiliate class, the Class of 1919. Lynn Brown said she donated the ring of her husband Lt. Col. Norman Brown, who died in 2016, and was member of the Class of 1969, as a way to keep his memory alive and forever tie him to this class.
"We were here on their R-Day, he did the March Back with them from Buckner and we were here for their Acceptance Day and planned to follow the class all the way through," Brown said. "After his unexpected passing two years ago, I knew that his heart was with this program and his class. He wanted to donate his ring. It keeps him affiliated with his affiliation class and the whole process of that legacy of the Long Gray Line, which is unbelievable."Also included in the ring melt was the ring of Col. Newell Vinson, a member of the Class of 1954, whose grandson Christian Vinson is a member of the Class of 2019. The ring was donated by Col. Vinson's son Douglas Vinson, who is also a West Point graduate."It is hard to get your mind around that. It is such an amazing thing," Douglas Vinson said of his dad's ring being a part of his son's. "He passed in 2004, I think if he were here today, he would be jumping out of his skin he'd be so excited. I think the importance of West Point and his ring was so deeply felt and to see that passed along to not only me, but actually in the ring of his grandson would have been all he could take."Emblazoned with their class crest and motto "So Freedom Will Reign" on one side and the West Point crest on the other, the "bold mold of rolled gold" they received Friday will forever tie together the Class of 2019 and all those who have come before them at West Point."When I leave here, this ring is going to represent all the memories I have of this place, good and bad," Smith said. "Particularly, the good memories of everything we have gone through together, all the hardships we have faced, and whenever I look down at it, I will know that I have the whole class behind me supporting me."For more photos from the event visit the West Point Flickr at the link located at the top of the page.