By Brandon OConnorAugust 27, 2019
Tradition, like service, binds together the members of the Long Gray Line who have graduated from the U.S. Military Academy.
The rituals and uniforms have little changed over the years, but since 1835 one of the most tangible threads tying each class to the ones that came before has been the class ring, which all but two classes since have received.
Friday evening, the members of the Class of 2020 became the latest cadets to receive their class rings during a ceremony at Trophy Point. The rings came in various colors and designs from simple to elaborate and varied in price from a low of $300 to a high of $11,000.
While some cadets chose to go with glitz and glamour with their ring, for others the design of their ring was all about the sentimental value of the choice they made.
On the face, Class of 2020 Cadet Will Ockerman's ring looks simple. A green Peridot stone serves as the centerpiece of the dark gold ring. There are no other embellishments other than "West Point 2020" engraved around the stone and the West Point and class crests adorning the sides. But what in design may look simple, to Ockerman means so much more.
"It was kind of a difficult process for me. I wasn't really sure what to pick," Ockerman said of designing his ring. "The more I thought about it, the more I wanted it to be significant in terms of my family, because that's the reason I'm here and the reason I've gotten to this point so far."
That process led him to a ring he had seen for much of his life, his dad's Class of 1983 ring from the U.S. Naval Academy. The ring wasn't something his dad wore often but growing up Ockerman had seen it many times with its green stone for his dad's birthday and the dark gold finish with no other embellishments, the same design 37 years later Ockerman would choose for his own class ring to honor the man he calls his hero.
"It means everything," Ockerman said of designing his ring as a copy of his dad's. "It means family. It means it's not just about me. The whole reason I'm here, the whole reason I want to serve is because of my dad. As I grew up he was my hero. To have this ring I'll have for the rest of my life that'll remind me of him and the reason I do what I do, that's what's special to me about it. I wouldn't want any other ring."
In the lead up to the Ring Ceremony, Ockerman kept the final design of his ring and the matching pendant he'd purchased for his mom a secret from both his parents. He then gave his dad strict orders to make sure he wore his own class ring to the ceremony, reminding him, "at least 18 times," Steve Ockerman said.
"Shock, surprise, I thought I was going to bust out in tears," Steve Ockerman said of his reaction when he saw the design of Will's ring. "I just couldn't believe it. I could not believe it and then somehow, it seemed like, well, yeah, it really does seem like him. We've always had a great bond, and this has brought us even closer. I'm just overwhelmed with pride."
While Will Ockerman chose to honor his dad with his ring, Class of 2020 Cadet Liam Furey's ring will serve as a permanent reminder of his grandmother.
Set in the center of the black stone atop his ring, a diamond serves as the focal point of Furey's ring. While his ring is brand-new, the diamond has already lived a lifetime with his family as for roughly 50 years it hung around the neck of his grandmother on a necklace given to her by her husband before they were married. From the day she was given the necklace to the day she died, his grandmother wore the necklace ever day, Furey said.
"Growing up, my grandmother lived with me for the last four years of her life," Furey said. "I helped take care of her. She kind of helped raise me."
When his grandmother first moved in, Furey said his mother worried it would be a burden for him. What other middle schooler has to help his grandmother to the bathroom or cook her meals? For Furey it proved to be anything but.
She became his support system, his biggest cheerleader and the galvanizing force that would lead him to West Point. Before she passed, his daily routine after school consisted of going and sitting with her and helping to take care of her. Out of shape and lacking in confidence, a career in the military and an appointment to West Point seemed unattainable at one point, Furey said.
Now as he begins his final year at the academy, Furey has found a way to honor the woman who believed in him before anyone else, even though she was never able to see him accepted to or attending West Point.
"If I ever start to doubt myself or there is any moment where I'm like, 'Am I really in the right place or really doing the right thing,' I can look down and I can have those memories of my grandmother supporting me and believing in me," Furey said of including his grandmother's diamond in his ring. "At the same time, I can be re-instilled with that confidence and knowing even though she may not be here on Earth, there's somebody supporting me, looking over me and with me."
When cadets are given their ring and they don it for the first time they place the class crest facing their heart. Upon graduation, the ring is flipped around with the West Point crest facing inward. For some graduates the ring will never leave their finger, while for others it will be worn on special occasions or be placed in a box and locked away.
Furey had thought he'd be a member of the latter groups, only wearing his ring on occasion, but that plan changed once he finalized the design to include the diamond that means so much to him.
"The fact that I'm going to have my grandmother's diamond in there, from her necklace, and the fact that I can look down and have a piece of her with me, I'm going to wear my ring a lot," Furey said. "Regardless of what the ring looks like, in 10, 20, 30 years, when I look down I know there's a sentimental connection and that emotional attachment to it."