The MIT Brass Rat
Every college ring tells a story, but for some institutions, that story is part of a beloved tradition.
The history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) senior ring, known as the Brass Rat, dates back to 1929. The then senior class president formed the first-ever student ring committee to design a ring for the Class of 1930. Today, that tradition continues. Each ring committee is tasked with designing a unique style that represents the graduating class. While some design elements – like a beaver, the university’s mascot, and the Boston skyline — are ever-present year after year, other aspects change with each committee as a way to represent their journey at MIT.
In recent years, Herff Jones has had the honor of manufacturing the Brass Rat, as MIT’s official jewelry provider. The video below shows MIT’s ring process featuring the Herff Jones design and manufacturing process.
This video was produced by Melanie Gonick with MIT News.
When you think about M.I.T., most people immediately jump into science and engineering but there’s a lot of things that make M.I.T. unique, and probably the most iconic and amazing tradition that M.I.T. has is the brass rat. The brass rat is a class ring that MIT gives to its students at the end of their sophomore year, and they wear for the rest of their lives.
The tradition of the brass rat actually began back in 1929 and there has been a committee of 12 students chosen every year to design the brass rat ever since.
That’s one of the unique things about M.I.T. is that students are the ones who are actually making the class ring and making a legacy for their class. It’s not an M.I.T. administration or it’s not a third-party vendor. It’s students of the class that decide what goes on the ring.
The committee is initially selected in the spring of their freshman year from the committee that precedes them, and their mission starts right away. In addition to being artists, they need to be business minded people to sell the rings. They need to be marketing and event planners because we’re also responsible for premiering and delivering the ring to our class.
There are very few student run committee programs where the ring is redesigned year to year. Herff Jones has the privilege in working with the M.I.T. student committee in redesigning every single aspect of the ring from top to bottom. From the designing process, manufacturing, into the delivery of the actual ring.
And we’ve designed a lot of different rings for many different schools across the country, but this one is interesting, specifically, because there’s so many different parts that are customizable. And every year, there’s six different parts of the ring that change.
There’s the bezel, there’s the skylines, there’s the two shanks, and there’s the Hacker’s map for the arbor on the inside of the ring.
It’s tough to take something from the ideation stage like that that has so much detail and so much symbolism to something that’s manufacturable. So, it’s a unique opportunity for us to take a look at our capabilities and stretch the limit on those capabilities. It is custom one-for-one manufacturing where a craftsperson is sitting down at a station actually hand using tools, wheels and motors to achieve that look. So, how light do we need to go, what are the best compounds to be using, what are the best wheels and abrasives, so that we can really get that detail out in the finished product and have all of that available for the students.
In addition to designing the class ring, we put a lot of time and effort into the events surrounding the class ring.
One of those events is “premiere” which is essentially this giant theatrical event where the class is shown the ring for the first time and it takes place in the biggest performance space on campus. And it’s just a really great event because it is one of the few times that as a class everyone is fully together getting to do something.
So, delivery really signifies the halfway point through our time here at the institute. We all wear really beautiful gowns and tuxes and go to a stunning place in Boston and celebrate being halfway through M.I.T. and get our ring and take a bunch of really pretty pictures.
When students get their ring at ring delivery, I think it’s really amazing that every student can say, “there’s a little bit of me in that ring.” What we do on the committee is that we try to represent every single community and every single background on the ring. So that way, students are excited and really feel like they have a home here at M.I.T.
I think it’s the most humbling thing to be given this opportunity to add to MIT’s history and it makes you think a lot about how much you can do and how much the people before you did. And it’s really encouraging. But at the same time, it shows you have a long way to go. And I am excited.
Typically at commencement, the most significant moment is crossing the podium and receiving your diploma. However, at M.I.T., we like to do things a little bit differently. And one thing that’s really unique at graduation is that you flip your brass rat. As an undergrad at M.I.T., you wear it such that you’re always looking at the Boston skyline. At graduation, they tell you to flip your brass rat so that way you can see the Cambridge skyline specifically MIT’s campus. You’re going out into the real world and you’re going to use everything that you’ve learned at this institution, both academically and personally. I think flipping that skyline around just signifies the closing of a chapter here at M.I.T. and the opening of so many new doors once you graduate.
“Please raise your right hand. Take off your brass rat and turn it around. And let the world know that we are now finally, finally graduates of M.I.T.” (cheering)
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