Even the dense smoke and poor air quality from the Matts Creek Fire in neighboring Bedford County could not hinder the VMI Class of 2025 from celebrating Ring Figure, one of the most anticipated events for cadets, Nov. 16 and 17 before leaving post for Thanksgiving furlough.
On Nov. 16, events began with the traditional presentation of the combat rings in Memorial Hall and class supper in Crozet Hall. The Douglas Carter France III ’71 Memorial Award for “excellent character, selflessness, graciousness, and enthusiasm” was presented by Warren J. “Buddy” Bryan ’71 to Cadet Noah Ahrens ’25, a biology major from Lynchburg, Virginia. Enthusiastically accepting the award, Ahrens stated, “Everyone always compliments us on our smile,” referring to the cheerful smiles he and his brother, Owen Ahrens ’24, who won the award last year, customarily display on their faces. “I love my BRs and a big smile from you, or when you call my name from across barracks, that’s what excites me. All the little things you do [are] what makes this place so special. We are here for each other.”
During the supper, Sgt. Maj. Tom Sowers, Institute and Corps sergeant major, addressed the class. Sowers shared with the cadets that there is a unique loyalty that reaches through generations of VMI alumni, and when they put on their class rings for the first time, they become more than ever part of that VMI “bloodline” of courage, pride, determination, selflessness, and dedication to duty.
Sowers closed by quoting President Ronald Reagan, “‘Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction…it must be fought for, protected…or we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in America where men were free.’” He then charged the cadets with the responsibility of never allowing freedom to go extinct under their watch. “Celebrate the glory of your youth and know that you are amongst some of the greatest warriors this nation has to offer.”
The class nominated Cpl. Jake Rogers, military sciences instructor, to be their honorary brother rat for the evening. Cadet Nathan Benton ’25, Ring Figure Committee president, presented him with a signet dinner ring. “Rogers began working at VMI when we matriculated in 2021 and is well-liked. He has a phenomenal attitude and has had a profound influence on our class,” said Benton.
In his acceptance speech, Rogers demonstrated an object lesson his father had taught him. He called for a volunteer to squeeze a hand grip strengthener while maintaining a quarter between the grips. After a few minutes of squeezing, the quarter dropped, and Rogers revealed, “The secret of keeping the quarter from dropping is to grip tighter and give it everything you’ve got. You either get better or worse; you never remain the same. Now, until the day you die, you are in a constant quest to develop mentally, physically, and spiritually. After great achievements, people tend to rest on their laurels. Don’t let your talents atrophy and slip away like that quarter.” He closed by telling the class, “I look forward with anticipation to hear of your great accomplishments and glorious deeds in the years to come.”
On Nov. 17, a family brunch in Crozet Hall was followed by the formal ring presentation ceremony, where 2nd Class cadets received their individualized rings in Cameron Hall. Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins ’85, superintendent, opened the ceremony by reminding the class that they were the first rat class for him as superintendent, and he holds them in high regard. He continued by telling them that Ring Figure is a tremendous achievement. “You’ve made a giant step forward, one step closer to the successful completion of your undergraduate academic journey. Wear your ring with honor and wear it with a sense of duty as you continue to forge your legacy in VMI’s history books,” he said.
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Gen. David J. Furness ’87 addressed the cadets after Wins and shared his thoughts on the symbolism, service, and sacrifice that the VMI class ring represents. “In our postmodern society of moral relativism and shifting ethical goalposts, such symbolism is important. It helps anchor us to our core values and ideals. Symbols on the rings capture the revered principles, historical events, and artifacts that VMI has built, developed, and refined over the many decades of its existence: Honor above self and commitment to selfless service.”
Furness described how the experiences shared by each VMI class become the iconography the class holds most dear: Key dates like Matriculation, Breakout, Ring Figure, and graduation; images like “Virginia Mourning Her Dead,” barracks, and U.S. Army Gen. George C. Marshall, Class of 1901, who he encouraged the cadets to study and emulate as the greatest example of selfless service. “The symbols help bind you to each other and trigger memories of your cadetship, which become more powerful and meaningful as the years pass.” He added that earning the right to wear a class ring is a watershed moment in the development of the class’s identity and maturity. “It indicates that you are collectively well underway to crossing the threshold of achievement whereby the responsibility of leading the Corps falls squarely on your shoulders.”
He concluded by sharing, “For me, personally, America is still the last best hope for all mankind. That shining city on a hill that remains a beacon of hope. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights have inspired millions around the globe. Service is what defines me and brings me joy. Your journey of service and sacrifice is just now beginning with the acceptance of this ring. By choosing the VMI experience, you chose the road less traveled but a road full of purpose, inward satisfaction, and camaraderie. Congratulations on attaining this milestone in your cadetship, and I wish you all the best through the rest of your cadetship and in all your future endeavors.”
Wins presented cadets with their rings, and cadets and their families had the opportunity to visit Memorial Hall for a ring blessing led by Cadets Benton, Sedona Dancu ’25, Caroline Lassalle ’25, Mohammad Khan ’25, and Max Kleeberg ’25, who all shared their spiritual faith.
Col. John Casper ’04, Institute chaplain, then shared his thoughts with the class that “the prize is worth the price,” a slogan he had read in VMI admissions literature when he was a high school student considering VMI. It encouraged him to matriculate and to get through the Rat Line. “That slogan helped me get through a lot at VMI. I remember finally getting my ring 20 years ago, almost to the day, right here in this building. My date had backed out just less than a week earlier. I was overwhelmed with academics, and I had a boxing match that very morning. Then, I looked down at my ring. Inside was inscribed, ‘the prize is worth the price,’” he reflected. He encouraged the class with the idea that the prize of the end goal is worth the price you need to pay to get there, whether it is the purchase price of a ring, or enduring struggles at VMI, or challenges in knowing God. Life is full of hardships, but with hardships come blessings. He concluded by saying, “Your ring is temporary. Your soul is eternal. Fight the good fight of faith, and run the race of life with endurance. Grow your faith. Get to know God better. The prize, like your ring, is worth the price.” He concluded the service by allowing each representative faith group in attendance a corner in Memorial Hall to privately pray over and bless their cadets.
The evening wrapped up with the Ring Figure ball held in Cocke Hall. Couples were able to process through sabers and have their photograph taken in the large replica ring.
Marianne Hause VMI Communications & Marketing
Editor's Note: Story originally published by Virginia Military Institute.