In Defense of Class Rings

I read Amanda Talar’s blog post yesterday about her choice of either selling her class ring for the gold value or keeping it for sentimental value.  I posted my thoughts in a response on her blog, but after a while I thought about my feelings should I ever have to choose to sell my ring.

No question.  The ring stays.


This might not be common knowledge to all, but I attended twelve different elementary and secondary schools.  That’s right, twelve.  My parents moved a lot, mostly between the Capital District and the north country.  That, and there were times when I lived with my grandmother in Massachusetts for a few semesters, to get away from a very hostile situation at home.

By 1980, I was living with my aunt and uncle (and my aunt’s three kids) in a tiny two-family house on O’Connell Street.  I had just moved back from Massachusetts, and because my stepfather still enjoyed those cans of Schlitz and still had a good case of alcohol-fueled Vietnam flashbacks, I couldn’t live there any more.  So I lived with my aunt and uncle.  Not much of an improvement, it was plenty toxic there too.

In fact, from about December 1978 to December 1979, I didn’t go to school.  Not because I didn’t want to – there were some legal issues involved.  Such as – back then, to attend any public school in the Albany City School District, you had to live with your custodial parent – who also had to live within the Albany City School District boundaries.

My mother and stepfather were living in their mobile home in either Stillwater or Schenectady, I can’t remember.  But that meant I would have had to attend school in those areas – or, I could pay tuition to attend Albany High School.

That’s right.  Pay tuition to attend Albany High School.  How’s that for a bargain?

Of course, for my aunt and uncle, my inability to actually attend school meant something entirely different and beneficial to them.

They now had live-in house care for my aunt’s kids.  Free in-house care.  While they could go work or do what they wanted.  Oh, and as an added bonus, they even claimed me as a dependent, so their welfare checks would get bigger.

If you’re sick about this, so am I.  But remember – it was worse with my mother and stepfather.

This lasted for about a year.  By November 1979, however, someone at Albany County CPS figured out that there were some shenanigans going on at O’Connell Street, possibly some welfare fraud or something along those lines.  Maybe they were tipped off when I called the hotline and told the operator the gory details.

A social worker arrived at our house.  My aunt and uncle weren’t home.  I explained the situation.  Immediately papers were filed.  I was granted emancipated minor status – I could continue to live with my aunt and uncle, but I would have decision-making power over what I wanted to do with my life.

But there was still a problem.  I couldn’t attend Albany High School.  And I had already lost a year of high school.

My new law guardian and I came up with a solution.  I could attend the only other public high school in Albany – a small alternative high school on Clinton Avenue.  I would still be able to get an education, and could graduate with a high school diploma.  I was told this school was called Street Academy.

My first words, I kid you not, were, “What, it’s in the street?”

At that time, the general populace of Street Academy were kids that, for one reason or another, were expelled from Albany High School.  It would have been too complicated to explain the whole machinations about parents living outside the Albany City School District, and tuition, and guardianship, and all that.

We boiled it down to a carefully crafted story.  As far as anyone was concerned, I “attended” Albany High for about half a day, but was expelled after getting in a fight with a teacher.  Sent to Street Academy.  It was a great cover story, and actually that story saved my rear a couple of times.  “Don’t mess with Chuck Miller,” I heard one kid say to another.  “He actually put a teacher in the hospital.  That’s hard core.”

Needless to say, my intentions of attending Street Academy were met with great amounts of revulsion and derision, all of it coming from my aunt.  “You’re not attending a real school,” they told me.  “That’s not a real school.  It’s a play school.  You don’t learn anything there.  I went to Bethlehem Central.  That’s a REAL school.”

Despite all the struggles and battles at home, I applied myself in school like never before.  My classmates were good people.  They had come from backgrounds as tough as mine.  And they studied.  And they applied themselves.

And in that school, I found a family.  A family of teachers and classmates and administrators.  A family and a sanctuary to help me get away from the craziness in my home life.

Around April 1981, a class ring representative appeared at our school.  He showed off various styles of class ring.  I purchased a men’s ring with my graduation year (1981) and an oil lamp torch on the ring side.  My initials CM were carved inside the ring.  I chose a peridot stone for the ring – peridot is the only birthstone that becomes luminescent under ultraviolet light.

But despite graduation, and eventually four years at college, my aunt still would not let go of the concept that I actually have a real high school diploma.  “You never graduated from a real school,” she told me.  “I’m proud of you for going to college after not attending school after the tenth grade.”

And every time I looked at my ring, I remembered what she said.  And it spurred me to never give up.

I did get a college ring during my freshman year.  I believe the tradition dictates that once you get your college ring, you put your high school ring away.  I didn’t.  This of course caused people to ask why I was wearing two academic rings, did I go to two high schools or something.

I lost my college ring about 15 years ago; I ordered a replacement ring in 2008.  I added a few details to the college ring – mostly my college fraternity and the call letters of the college radio station.  I wore the college ring a few times, but it didn’t fit right and I didn’t have the heart to send it back and get it resized.  So I kept it on my dresser, where it sits to this day.

I’ve taken off my high school ring only a few times.  Mostly when I have to go through any metal detectors at an airport.  Or if I am going somewhere and fear that the ring might get damaged or lost, like at a swimming pool.  Last winter, my fingers were so cold that they started to shrink in diameter – and my high school ring slipped off my finger.  I put it on my dresser as well – better to hold on to it there, than to lose it somewhere.

I’ve had the peridot stone replaced twice.  I’ve had the ring resized once.  It’s been polished and cleaned for nearly 30 years.  This ring means so much to me – not just because of the high school where I graduated, but also the tremendous struggle to actually attend high school and graduate, despite all the issues involved with my family.