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From their earliest days at Harvard, students are routinely reminded of one another’s financial circumstances. There is always a contingent of first-years who regularly desert Annenberg in favor of more expensive dining offerings—the same fortunate few who every spring pick the priciest vacation destinations. For those students who cannot afford Harvard’s loftier of lifestyles, who suffer through dining hall fare day after day—for whom spring break means a bus ride home, instead of a flight to Bermuda—by the time senior year arrives, they learn that the barriers of economic class extend, not surprisingly, to class spirit as well. Class rings, those three- to four-figure graduation souvenirs, are an unrivaled sign of vanity and unparalleled purchase of pretentiousness—the fitting cap to a $120,000 education at the most arrogant of institutions. Students who buy them know they are wasting their money, but they don’t even care.
Nevertheless, the Undergraduate Council did good work last Sunday in making plans to endorse an “official” class ring. According to council members, this measure would reduce the price of the rings $100 to $200 for those extravagant souls with their hearts set on the hollow tokens of remembrance. At present, class rings are sold by several vendors whose modest sales volume compels them to charge exorbitant prices. With council sponsorship, complete with an official ceremony to confer the cherished symbols of opulence, a lucky retailer would capture most of the market. In turn, they would offer better deals for students, who would generously be spared part of the cost of their own vanity.
Harvard Student Agencies (HSA) seems the likely candidate for this advantageous position—in fact, they drew up the original proposal. But while HSA showed a good sense of initiative and a benevolent desire to save students money, the council judiciously refused to prematurely cede its endorsement to HSA. Indeed, the bill’s stated purpose of minimizing student expenditures is best served by shrewdly investigating all possible plans to reduce the costs to students. The council has embraced this route and wisely stated a desire to limit the duration of the first contract to one year. By allowing for plans to be revised periodically according to changes in costs and students’ ring design preferences—as well as ensuring the accountability of the chosen vendor—the council’s motion will genuinely serve student interests.
But while the council’s decision will greatly benefit many Harvard students, making it truly valuable in that regard, some of the other stated motives for the policy are suspect. To lighten the burden of class rings on student wallets is a fine goal, to be sure, but to do so in an attempt to increase the number of buyers is vile. Class rings are the icons of a decadent class of well-to-do college students; the council is foolish to advocate increasing their sales for the ludicrous purpose of promoting community among seniors. The community of class ring owners—which recently includes roughly every other graduate—shares little more than thick wallets and an appreciation for materialism.
In fact, class rings do much more to separate students by social class than to unite them as a graduating class. The council was right to seek to an official ring, but it should not overestimate the breadth of the benefits. Assisting students impoverished by their own financial pretentiousness is a noble mission, but fostering community through the shared experience of purchasing class rings is nothing more than a pipe dream.
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