Corps of Cadets from Class of 2021 celebrate receiving class rings in scaled-down ceremony

The ring’s the thing, as generations of Norwich University alumni will tell you. The class jewelry, as large as World Series championship rings and traditionally worn loud and proud on right hands, are no mere baubles. They represent triumph, tradition and inclusion. 

And as President Emeritus Richard W. Schneider related Saturday, their meaning changes with time.

Ordinarily, the Corps would have held a spring ring ceremony, as it has since the 1980s. Juniors would have marched from the Upper Parade Ground to Plumley Armory in their original freshman year platoons, where their former cadre members, who’d been invited back to campus, would bestow the class rings. Lt. William Passalacqua ’88, the Class of 2021 ring committee’s adviser and an assistant commandant, said a Sept. 18 reception dinner had been planned at Plumley to celebrate. 

The coronavirus scrapped all that. 

When Saturday arrived, the students had long ago received their rings — they’d been postal mailed after March’s infection curve-flattening closure. One hundred one rings were mailed, Passalacqua said in a March 20 message to university and student leaders that thanked mailroom staff members Kaci Grandin, Mitch Abraham and Herb Carlton for their help.

“Then you know the power of this ring. It means you will not let that Honor Code down and you will not let the Norwich values down.” Norwich University President Emeritus Richard W. Schneider

Aspen Reinauer, a senior who served on the 2021 Ring Committee (and is now the Student Government Association president) prepared and addressed the ring packages. The Ring Committee’s Vice Chairwoman Isabella Leister, also a senior, distributed more than 100 rings for pickup.

Passalacqua wrote that students wore their uniforms — gray tunics and white trousers — during in-person pickup to simulate ceremony.

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President Emeritus Richard W. Schneider speaks to Norwich cadets from the Class of 2021 on Sept. 19 on the Upper Parade Ground. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“Now that’s having some fun and making the best of a disappointing situation,” he wrote.

On Saturday, the Corps mounted a physically distanced, scaled-down ceremony on the Upper Parade Ground. President Mark C. Anarumo, Col. Michael Titus, the commandant of cadets, the Rev. William Wick, the University’s chaplain, Frank Vanecek, Norwich’s senior vice president of student affairs and technology and the day’s special guest, Schneider, held court from a reviewing stand in front of Chaplin Hall.

Civilian students will have their ring ceremony later. 

Seniors in the Class of 1923 began Norwich University’s ring tradition, modeling their jewelry, which features a class crest and design on one side and Norwich University’s crest on the other, after the U.S. Military Academy’s.

“This ring will then mean as much to the man wearing it as his diploma, and once the custom is started and lived up to every year, the alumni will appreciate more and more what a ring of this nature stands for,” a quote from a March 8, 1923, article in the Norwich Guidon student newspaper read.

Anarumo, presiding over his first ring ceremony since succeeding Schneider as Norwich president June 1, congratulated the students for their achievement and for weathering the virus’s schedule-disrupting whiplash. He said although he’d hoped for a bigger celebration, Vermont Health Department guidelines wouldn’t allow it.

“I absolutely hate what has happened to your class,” Anarumo said in apology. “Because of this virus, we’ve lost the ceremonies you’ve looked forward to so much. You’ve done enough as a class and as professionals and members of Norwich to deserve better.”

Bigger hurdles ahead

Schneider spoke next, saying that neither he nor Anarumo, creative spirits both, could have concocted a tougher collective leadership challenge than the current one. Campus leaders’ immediate task, Schneider said, will be caring for one another and upholding Norwich’s (and Vermont’s) distinction as a near-coronavirus-free haven for prospective students. 

Bigger hurdles await, Schneider told the students.

“I’ve lived 74 years, I’ve lost a wife, I’ve been to Vietnam. … I’ve done all the things I was supposed to do,” Schneider said. “And this right here may seem like it’s terrible for you, but let me tell you, it’s not the worst thing you’re going to face.

“And, by the way, it’s getting you ready to be the leaders we need you to be,” he added. “What a great proving ground.”

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Members for Norwich University’s Corps of Cadets from the Class of 2021 stand in formation Sept. 19 before their scaled-down ring ceremony on the Upper Parade Ground. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

The rings, like the maroon-and-gold ROOK baseball caps, white name tags, Dog River stones and regimental crests are important Norwich mementos, symbolizing achievement and leadership. However, once degree diplomas (and commissioning warrants and U.S. presidential notes) are collected, students will cede authority but gain membership.

“The (ring’s) meaning mysteriously, magically and especially changes to say, ‘Now I’m a member of something bigger than myself,’” Schneider said. “And that’s the most important thing you have learned in your four years here.

“All of you, think about this,” Schneider said, his voice rising to a shout. “You will do anything to help a classmate, right? You did it as a rook, you protected them. You helped each other; you’ve done it all along and you’re still doing it today.”

Schneider invited the students to hold their rings to feel their weight — a symbol of the promise to uphold Norwich’s Honor Code.

“Then you know the power of this ring,” Schneider said. “It means you will not let that Honor Code down and you will not let the Norwich values down. They are like Vermont granite. If you honor them, they will never let you down.”

As Schneider said, the students had worked for their rings, maintaining good academic standing, completing at least 73 earned academic credits, satisfying on-campus residency requirements (and, if applicable, ROTC coursework), meeting physical fitness test standards and being clear of disciplinary or honor breaches. 

Ringed at last

Daniel DeRosa, a senior criminal justice major and Corps of Cadets’ public affairs officer, said although he and his classmates were sorry to miss their ceremonial moment and its campuswide electricity last spring, he was glad to see Schneider and Anarumo onstage and to have his ring.

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Norwich University’s President Mark C. Anarumo speaks Sept. 19 before the scaled-down ring ceremony for Corps of Cadets from the Class of 2021 on the Upper Parade Ground. (Photo by Mark Collier.)

“This is the milestone for leadership,” DeRosa said, adding that underclassmen sometimes recognize the rings more readily than they recognize upperclassmen’s uniform leadership stripes. “It’s just a good reminder of everything that’s happened at Norwich and all we’ve gone through. I got to be in leadership. I got to earn the ring.” 

Nick Kandra, a senior criminal justice major on the Ring Committee, said completing the rings’ design, managing their distribution and devising the scaled-down ceremony felt like triumphs. After Schneider and Anarumo spoke, he said, the feeling of accomplishment grew. 

“Having the ring means you’re an overall good person, embodying the values here,” Kandra said. “(You’re) doing what you’re supposed to do, making ethical decisions.”

Shawnae Evans, a senior neuroscience major who recently earned the Air Force Scholarship to attend medical school free of charge after commissioning, said she proudly wears her ring and gladly carries its responsibility.

“President Schneider said it best, when you look down at your hand and see the ring, it’s a reminder of the community you stand with,” she said. “You’ve done it; you’ve taken the lead. And everyone who graduates becomes a mentor to the next leaders in the Norwich community. We (as seniors) are embracing that culture. 

“It’s real now,” she said. “It’s our turn.”

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