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If You Like It Then Don’t Put a Ring On It

Pointing out the exclusionary nature of Ring Ceremony.

Graphic by Mira ’20

Among the 11th Grade flurry of extracurriculars and college counseling, there remains yet another constant, at least for Marlborough students: Ring Ceremony.

The idea behind the ceremony is simple. As a celebration of their time at Marlborough, juniors are given a memento to remember the school by. While the ceremony certainly carries sentimental value, the rings Marlborough students are encouraged to buy are inordinately expensive and therefore exclusionary for much of the student body.

At class meeting about a month ago, the junior class was given catalogs full of rings from Jostens, the ring store from which most Marlborough students purchase their rings, and were spoken to by a representative from the company. The cheapest class ring offered at Jostens is an eye-popping $262, and the price ratchets up from there all the way to a ring that costs nearly $1200, which can prove prohibitively expensive for many students. After all, if the expectation is that we each pay hundreds of dollars for a class ring, the school cannot then reasonably turn around and say it is accessible to any but the families for whom that kind of money is not an issue.

And simply buying the cheapest ring option is not a solution either. Not only does the cheapest available ring still cost hundreds of dollars, but there is an obvious difference in looks between the already pricey lustrium ring and its white gold equivalent, which costs about five times as much. That difference incentivizes getting one of the most expensive options to avoid having what very clearly looks like the cheapest version. Often, discounts that come with financial aid are also insufficient. The discounts are based on the price of the most inexpensive Jostens ring, so that someone paying half-tuition would get a discount worth half the price of the lustrium ring (about $130), and would have to pay the difference, an amount that could be nearly $1000, a daunting price to pay to fit in with peers. And unless the rings are paid for by the school, there will inevitably be some for whom the price of the ring—whether it be well over $1000 or just in the “mere” three figures—will be more meaningful than it is for others.

Another common refrain is that students always have the option of bringing their own rings or buying one from a more affordable store, but there are a few problems with that solution as well. First, it does not solve the exclusion problem, in the same way having rings at different prices does not. If there remain visible differences between rings, then there remains pressure to get the most expensive one. Second, the issue goes beyond simply being able to get one’s hands on a socially acceptable ring. If Marlborough truly aims to be inclusive, any school-sanctioned activity where the default option is shelling out several hundred dollars for a ring that, for most students, will likely end up collecting dust in a closet, is a barrier to that inclusivity, regardless of if there are other options available. The possibility of getting another ring does not change the fact that entire class meetings have been dedicated to which of the Jostens rings a student should get, or where we should turn in our thousand-dollar checks once we’ve selected how many karats of gold we would like in our rings.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with not getting a Jostens ring. But as long as the junior class continues being handed Jostens catalogs and told the vast majority of their peers will be Jostens customers, the prevailing view coming from the administration will seem to be that there is.

With a rich history stretching back centuries, Marlborough is a school of countless important traditions, but no other Marlborough tradition, from pin ceremony to Spirit Week to Winter Fest, carries the price tag that ring ceremony does. Certainly, I think ring ceremony has the potential to be just another Marlborough tradition. But to truly reap all the benefits we can from the event, we have to first make sure it is a tradition that can be enjoyed equally by everyone.