VCU Ring Ceremony

Words of Tom Epperson ring true at fall class ring ceremony

Dec. 16, 2019 - Susie Burtch

On December 5, mascot Rodney the Ram carried a trunk of rings into Cabell Library, eagerly awaited by soon-to-be alumni gathered for the traditional semi-annual class ring ceremony.

“VCU will be a part of your life forever,” promised Elizabeth Bass, Assistant Vice President of Alumni Relations. “We are here to celebrate your achievements, recognitions and successes.”

Epperson Inspires Audience

Featured speaker Tom Epperson (B.S. ‘97/H&S) reinforced her words. Currently an adjunct instructor in the Executive MBA Program and a certified business coach, Epperson is president of InnerWill Leadership Institute.

“As a student,” he remembers, “there was always someone who helped you along the way – a professor, a staff member, friend, parent or partner. Someone helped when you needed it. As alumni,” he continued, “you are not alone either. You join over 200,000 VCU graduates nationwide who proudly wear this ring. They are here to help you succeed, so stay your path.”

Epperson’s own path has led to helping people develop as leaders, so they can make a positive difference in the world. “Leadership is a choice, not a title,” he reminded the assembled students.

Tradition Shaped Rings

Before distributing the rings, Bass explained their rich tradition. They are locked inside a trunk that is placed in the Egyptian Building at exactly 6:38 PM (18:38 in military parlance). The year 1838 marked the founding of VCU’s precursor, the Medical College of Hampden-Sydney (later the Medical College of Virginia). It wasn’t until 1968, when VCU merged with Richmond Professional Institute, that the institution came to be known as Virginia Commonwealth University.

Rings Mark Alumni

At the ceremony, students were instructed to place the class ring on their right hand with the seal facing them. At commencement, they will turn the ring so the seal faces out into the world, indicating their new status as a VCU graduate.

As he regarded his own ring, Epperson reflected on its symbolism. The metal, he said, represented the grit, tenacity and strength of a VCU student/alum to handle all situations. During his student days, he related, he wrote seven novels, plus innumerable short stories and poems – all of which failed to see publication. However during that same time, Epperson earned three degrees, met his wife and found his calling. Because he had true grit, he was able to get back on his feet and move forward. “You see,” he pointed out, “VCU doesn’t just teach you to succeed; it teaches you to fail and learn from that experience.”

Epperson said the circular shape of the ring carries significance as well. It honors the importance of community when help is needed. And finally, the Egyptian Building seal reminded him of his commitment to the university. “Wherever you go, whatever you do,” he said, “You are a representative of VCU and a steward of the name.”

“Congratulations once again on behalf of your entire VCU family,” concluded Bass. “We urge you to wear your rings proudly – and wear them for life. Best of luck.”