The stage was set to celebrate the Long Gray Line of West Point as the Class of 2022 cadets and distinguished guests commemorated the 21st annual Ring Melt ceremony Friday at the Eisenhower Hall’s Crest Hall. The ceremony brought together several groups, including the U.S. Corps of Cadets, ring donor’s friends and families who tuned in virtually and members of the Herff Jones Company, the company that makes the class rings.
The idea to incorporate gold into the class rings of future graduates came from U.S. Military Academy Class of 1958, Ron Turner, and in November 2000, the Class Ring Memorial Program was established as 31 rings were melted at the Herff Jones Company in Providence, Rhode Island. The USMA Class of 2002 was the first class to fashion gold in their rings, Cathy Kilner, the director of the West Point Associate of Graduates (WPAOG), said.
The event lasted over two hours, with 52 rings being donated for this year’s ceremony. The rings were neatly displayed on a table with each ring having a picture of the graduate who once donned the ring.
Several cadets from the Class of 2022 assisted the WPAOG by reading the ring donors names and a brief description of their personal history. The cadets then called the names of the other cadets and West Point leadership, who are tied to the ring, to stand and place the ring into the crucible and salute during the ceremony, Kilner said.
“On behalf of the Class of 2022, I would like to extend a warm thank you to those who donated their rings or the rings of their loved ones to our class,” Class of 2022 Cadet Claire Jones said as she stood before the podium expressing her gratitude. “We understand the magnitude of the decision to donate your ring and we are extremely grateful that you have chosen to give this piece of yourself or of your loved one in order to grip hands with us.”
Jones added each ring holds the story of its owner — a story that will now live on and be remembered by the graduates of the Class of 2022.
The granddaughter of Capt. Harvey Jokinen, Class of 2022 Cadet Valentina Vincent, was called up to place his ring into the crucible and concluded the ritual by saluting the ring of the graduate.
“I have no doubt in my mind that this is exactly what he wanted to be done with his ring,” Vincent said as she gave love and praise to her deceased grandfather. “Even though I never got the opportunity to meet him, I will now always have a reminder of him with me. I need only look down at my ring for that reminder.”
A legacy gold ingot was created for the Class of 2022 using the additional 52 donated class rings, Kilner said.
“Inside the cup that Cadet Williams is holding are gold shavings known as the legacy gold. The legacy gold contains trace elements of gold from every ring that has been donated from 617 rings donated over the past 20 years,” Kilner said. “Placing the legacy gold into the crucible is the Class President Cadet Xavier Williams.”
The legacy gold was added to the newly donated class rings that were already in the crucible. It was then taken away to Bartlett Hall where a smelter melted the rings in an intense flame. The gold from 669 graduate rings from 1896 to 2001 melted and merged together creating a bar of gold, Kilner said.
After the ceremony, cadets expressed their excitement in adding to the history of the Long Gray Line.
“Today, I placed my grandfather’s ring into the crucible, which is a really gratifying experience to know that he came here and went through the same things that I’m going through,” Vincent said. “Today, I got to place his ring into (the crucible) and I will get to wear his ring on my finger every day and he will be with me everywhere I go, so I’m very grateful for the experience.”
For Class of 2022 Cadet Isaac Jackson Ford, experiencing the Ring Melt ceremony was very thought provoking and a moment in his life he will never forget.
“To be honest, I had never really thought about the ring and the symbolism of the ring in a very deep way — apart from picking out a cool jewel that looks nice,” Ford said. “But today really changed that and today was really a testimony to the connectedness between us and the Long Gray Line and having a physical representation of that. Another thing that was really cool was our classmates who knew or were connected through family of some of those donors and some of those stories really spoke to me. It was moving to see the emotion they had while putting that ring in the crucible.”
For more information about WPAOG’s Class Ring Memorial Program, please go to www.westpointaog.org/ringmemorialprogram or call 845-446-1614 or the RingMemorialProgram@wpaog.org.