WEST POINT, N.Y. (Aug. 25, 2010) -- Hundreds of onlookers hovered hillside behind Trophy Point at the U.S. Military Academy to catch a glimpse of gold, a flash of silver and the gleam of gemstones during a West Point tradition that spans 165 years.

Adorned in their India Whites, the Class of 2011 marched to the applause of spectators for the Ring Ceremony on Aug. 20. Standing in formation, the cadets awaited the ring presentation from their tactical officers and noncommissioned officers, while Family, friends and guests gathered 300 feet away, ready to celebrate Ring Weekend festivities with the senior class.

"The West Point class ring is a wonderful symbol of unity, of pride and of connection," Brig. Gen. William Rapp, Commandant for the Corps of Cadets, said. "The ring unites the class with a crest unique to that year and indicative of the elements valued by that class."

The tradition of class rings was conceived at West Point in 1835 with a simple signet ring of flat stone bearing the motto: "Danger brings forth friendships." The small rings were designed to be worn on the pinky finger and had flat crests used to seal wax on letters. A ring committee was first formed in 1869 to bring uniformity to the ring. In 1917, a standard die was cut where the USMA crest and class crest would be positioned on either side of the ring; the two stars and class year were added in 1921, which became the standard ever since.

"Lee, Grant, Pershing, MacArthur, Eisenhower and Schwarzkopf all stood on this very same ground that you stand on today," Rapp told the Class of 2011. "They leave us a legacy to uphold and a challenge to face in our own lives. I've got the utmost confidence that you will rise to that challenge, and that you will be there for our country, just as those who've donned the rings many years ago have done so."

Cadet Jonathan James has been waiting for the chance to wear a West Point ring since attending preparatory school four years earlier. The band of gold validates all the hard work and perseverance required to reach this moment, he said.

"This is the greatest feeling ever," James said.

It was hard for Michele Merzi to hold back the tears trickling down underneath her sunglasses. She's more accustomed to seeing her son, Cadet Anees Merzi, in his Black Knights uniform and on the football field.

"This is the first time I've seen him in his whites, and the first time in a situation that was not football," Michele said. "So I cried."

Although the left tackle had the afternoon off from practice for the ceremony, his mind was still on football. When asked what was next for mom and son, they both responded: a college bowl, and to win it. So while most Firsties made plans to celebrate the milestone, Merzi was thinking about getting some extra sleep before practice Saturday.

"The ring is awesome because it feels like everything has come full circle for me," Merzi said. "It's like just yesterday I was here as a Plebe and now everything's coming together and I'm almost in the Army now."

While many cadets and guests lingered at Trophy Point, a steady stream trickled back toward Central Area. Civilians may have been puzzled by the noise and chaos that ensued, but the senior cadets knew better.

The task at hand was avoiding the onslaught of Plebes lurking around Central Area hoping to accost them with the traditional verses known as Ring Poop. With Ring Weekend festivities awaiting, the Firsties all plotted out the fastest routes possible.

"I'm just going to have to pull some juke moves," James said. "I'm probably going to have to jump through a window, but I'll make it."