VMI Class of 2025 Celebrates Ring Figure
LEXINGTON, Va. Nov. 20, 2023 — Even the dense smoke and poor air quality from the Matts Creek Fire in neighboring Bedford County, could not hinder the Virginia Military Institute 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.
The first ring was designed by members of the Class of 1848 and was presented to graduates during finals celebrations. The design was simple — the word “Mizpah” was cut in the stone and on the inside of the band was engraved, “1 of 24, July 1848.” Mizpah, from the Hebrew, is translated as “the Lord watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” The term signified brotherhood, the enduring connection among the 24 graduates of the Class of 1848. Modern rings have become increasingly larger and more elaborate in design, but the tradition of the class designing their one-of-a-kind ring remains the same and the word “Mizpah” is often still found.
The custom of 2nd Class cadets receiving the class ring was established in 1907, and the addition of the Ring Figure dance started in 1927 with the Class of 1928.
On Thursday, Nov. 16, the traditional presentation of the combat rings in Memorial Hall and class supper in Crozet Hall were held. The Douglas Carter France III ’71 Memorial Award for “excellent character, selflessness, graciousness, and enthusiasm” was presented by Warren J. “Buddy” Bryan ’71 to 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 is what makes this place so special. We are here for each other.”
During the supper, Institute and Corps Sgt. Maj. Tom Sowers addressed the class, who welcomed him to the podium with a thunderous ovation. 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 ring for the first time, they become more than ever, part of that VMI “bloodline” of courage, pride, determination, selflessness, and dedication to duty. Sowers reminded the cadets of when Château-Thierry in France fell during WWI. “On June 1, the German troops moved into Belleau Wood. The U.S. 2nd division, which included a brigade of Marines, was brought up along the Paris-Metz highway. The retreating French, having suffered heavy casualties, urged the advancing Marines to turn back. Their response to the French came from Captain Lloyd W. Williams when he uttered the now famous retort, ‘Retreat? Hell, we just got here.’” Sowers added that when Capt. Williams had been wounded on the battlefield, he told the approaching medics, “Don’t bother with me. Take care of my men.” “That sounds like something many of you might say,” he told the cadets.
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.”
Sowers deployed multiple times including Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is a distinguished graduate of the Joint Special Operations Forces Senior Enlisted Academy and has been awarded many personal decorations including the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star with combat distinguishing device and gold star in lieu of second award, the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation with combat distinguishing device and two gold stars in lieu of third award, the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement with three gold stars in lieu of fourth award, and the Combat Action Ribbon with two gold stars in lieu of third award. In 2018, Sowers retired from the Marine Corps and assumed his duties at VMI.
The class nominated Cpl. Jake Rogers, military sciences instructor to be their honorary brother rat for the evening. 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.”
Rogers joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2007. He was mobilized for deployment for security and joint training in Israel and again to embassy security in Yemen. He received his associate degree from Georgia Military College, and his bachelors, and master’s degrees in history, with a focus on military history from Florida State University. Rogers has been awarded the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Mobilization Ribbon, a Meritorious Mast, and two Certificates of Commendations awards. Rogers joined the VMI in 2021.
On Friday, 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.
Alumnus guest speaker, 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 Gen. George C. Marshall, 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.”
Furness spoke to the cadets about the reality of military service to the nation, and of the American servicemen and women who gave up all their tomorrows for others to enjoy the fruits of liberty and freedom today. “While you may not pay the ultimate sacrifice, I'm quite certain that all of you will eventually be met with challenges that exceed everything you've ever imagined. You might doubt yourself, and your abilities, but it will be the moment to deliver on this Institute's promise to produce men and women of high character and action.”
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.”
Throughout Furness’ career he has served in a variety of command and staff billets in both the operating forces and the supporting establishment. As a general officer he commanded Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, and the 2d Marine Division. In the supporting establishment, he served on the staff of The Basic School as staff platoon commander and as tactics instructor for both the basic officer and infantry officer course; commanding officer of Recruiting Station Sacramento, California; director, Marine Corps Legislative Liaison Office in the U.S. House of Representatives; director of Expeditionary Warfare School; legislative assistant to the commandant of the Marine Corps; and assistant deputy commandant for Plans, Policy and Operations, Headquarters. His professional military education includes The Basic School, the Infantry Officer Course, the Army Infantry Officer Advanced Course, the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, the School of Advanced Warfighting, and the National War College. He earned master’s degrees from both the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and the National War College. He participated in contingency operations in the Republic of Panama, Operation Provide Comfort, Operation Unified Assistance, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom. His personal decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit (3), Bronze Star Medal with combat distinguishing device (2), Combat Action Ribbon (3), Meritorious Service Medal (2), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal (2), and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He retired from the deputy commandant for Plans, Policy and Operations Headquarters.
Wins presented cadets with their rings, and cadets and their families had the opportunity to visit Memorial Hall for a ring blessing, led by 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 on 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 that 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 comes blessings. He concluded by saying, “Your ring is temporary. Your soul is eternal. Fight the good fight of faith, 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 with the traditional dress code of coatees, white ducks/long white skirts for cadets, floor-length white gowns and elbow-length gloves for female civilian dates, and tuxedos with white bow tie for male civilian dates. Couples were able to process through sabers and have their photograph taken in the large replica ring.
Photos H. Lockwood McLaughlin
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