Last week was Rice’s first ever virtual Homecoming. Owl Together brought together thousands of alumni, students, parents, faculty, and staff to help people connect – to the university and with each other – despite the challenging times.
As President of the Association of Rice Alumni, I was invited to make some brief remarks at the annual Rice Ring Ceremony, where students who will soon graduate receive their Rice rings. It’s always a heartwarming event and this year did not disappoint, even if we weren’t all together in person. Below is a transcription of my remarks:
“Welcome, Rice students, families, faculty, staff, alumni, and especially welcome to all those who have just earned their Rice ring! It has been nearly 20 years since I earned my Rice ring, which means this ring has been a party to myriad wonderful stories.
One of my favorite Rice ring stories occurred back in 2009, when I was living in Europe. I was visiting Amsterdam for the weekend and was riding the tram. While I was standing, I noticed that a woman seated nearby was really staring at me. I thought she might look a little familiar but I couldn’t place her; it was a little weird!
When the tram went around the corner, I reached out to grab the pole for balance. At that moment, the woman exclaimed, “Bryan!” and came over to talk to me. It turned out to be Joy Roth, a former Rice Alumni Board member with whom I had volunteered in Houston. I hadn’t seen her for years since she had moved to Nigeria and certainly hadn’t expected to bump into her in Amsterdam! She had thought she recognized me but, when she saw the Rice ring on my hand as I reached for the pole, she became certain.
She joined me in standing at the pole and suddenly two other women approached us from the back of the tram, asking if we had attended Rice – they had seen our rings too! The front of the tram suddenly became an ad hoc Rice reunion!
- I love this story because it demonstrates how the Rice ring is a symbol of your connectivity to 55,000 Rice alumni all around the world. Although those 55,000 alumni are geographically, demographically, academically, and professionally diverse, we all share a common bond: Rice chose us and we chose Rice! No matter where life takes you, there will always be a parliament of Owls to support you in whatever you need.
The Rice ring is also a connection back to the Rice campus. Rice was my Hogwarts; it is a place I hold dear and love to visit. During times like these, when traveling back to Houston is impractical, my Rice ring keeps me connected even from afar.
- As much as the Rice ring is a symbol of shared experience, it is also differentiated to symbolize what was unique about your individual experience. Each Rice ring displays your year of graduation. Mine shows 2001 which, as a computer science major, still reminds me 20 years later of the .com crash and how I had four job offers with software comanies rescinded in the same day! But it also reminds me of meeting and beginning to date a fellow Lovetteer who is now my life partner.
Your rings show 2021, which will remind you of unprecedented – and hopefully unique – experiences. From Hurricane Harvey to COVID, you have experienced challenging times at Rice. Outside of Rice too these are challenging times, combining global crises of health, economy, climate, and democracy. But I think 20 years from now we will remember 2021 as the year we turned it all around – and we will remember the Class of 2021 as leading the way.
- So, from all of us alumni all around the world, congratulations on earning your Rice ring!”
It took every ounce of strength for me to resist making Lord of the Rings references, but I managed to stay strong!