You hear the stories all the time.
Joe was in the grocery store in Chicago. He was just about to pay the cashier when a woman came up to him and said, “I saw the ring on your finger! You’re a Cobber?!?! Me too!”
The two, both graduates of the small liberal arts college in Moorhead, then went for coffee. They had a long conversation about bell towers, ears of corn, and ponds. They became regular friends.
Maybe you’ve heard a story like this. Instead of a grocery store, maybe it was in an airport in Prague, or a job interview in Reno. Either way, every ring has a story.
Cobber ring sales have stayed consistent the past couple of years, thanks to larger class sizes and increased alumni sales. Problem is, with the price of gold at an all-time high and the economy not being in the best shape, some Concordia students in the future may not be able to afford the ring for which Concordia has become famous.
The cost of the Cobber ring has risen steadily. The ring cost about $300 in 1998, when Searle Swedlund, associate director of alumni relations, graduated. The cheapest ring model now costs about $600. This number comes as a surprise even for Swedlund, a Cobber ring advocate.
“I was shocked when I saw this year’s price,” Swedlund said.
The cost has been reason for several Concordia students to pass on the tradition of buying a ring. Emily Gotta, a Concordia senior, views the ring has somewhat financially frivolous.
“Both of my parents have one,” Gotta said, “but I can’t justify spending that much; I’d rather spend that money on plane tickets or a shopping spree. The rings really are unreasonably expensive.”
Nick Weisser, a junior at Concordia, agrees with Gotta’s point of view.
“For me, it’s a money thing,” he said. “With bills and everything, I just don’t have the money to spend.”
Although some students struggle to find ways to pay for a ring, PJ Hines, director of the Concordia bookstore, says there solutions to the problem.
According to Hines, most students either buy their ring as a junior or senior at Concordia, but many students have resorted to asking for the ring as a graduation present. That way, she said, their parents will pay for it, eliminating any cost to the student. Hines also said that many Cobber alums also wait until they’re settled in their career before ordering a ring, adding that some Concordia grads have even bought rings to celebrate their retirement.
Hines also would like students to know about alternative ways of paying for rings while still at Concordia. One way, she says, is to make installment payments.
Students can pay for the ring bit by bit according to their budget, and when they’ve paid the entire price of the ring, they finally receive the ring to keep. This way, they can avoid the large hit to their finances happening all at once.
“It seems like a large investment,” Hines said, “but if you break it down and start saving for it, it becomes much more affordable.”
Another payment option is gift cards. Hines has heard of students asking for gift cards to the bookstore for occasions such as birthdays and Christmases, and then using the cards to pay for all or a large portion of the ring cost.
The ring is also a good investment, according to Hines, because of the lifetime warranty offered by Josten’s, something she says you won’t find many places.
“How many things in life do you get a lifetime warranty on?” she said.
But not all students who don’t have a ring are concerned with the price or durability.
Concordia senior Hanna Stevens says that to her, people get a ring to symbolize their experiences at Concordia and where they’re headed in life, but her experiences as a college student haven’t been limited to Concordia at all. She says the ring isn’t worth the sacrifices made to get it.
“One of the main purposes of the ring is to be an immediate identifier of being a Cobber rather than an individual,” she said. Stevens said she’d rather be seen as a unique person than part of a larger group.
Stevens also mentioned another key question about the ring: its effect on the job search.
“Some people have been received better in the job world because of it,” she said, “but the last thing I want is to sell myself into the job market.”
While there are no concrete statistics about whether having a ring actually makes a difference, there is a debate about the ring: Does a single piece of gold jewelry really make that much of a difference?
According to Swedlund, it might. Swedlund says that while your resume and experiences are important, students should look for any advantage they can in the job market.
“I can’t tell you you’ll get a job because of a ring, but I will tell you it might make a difference,” Swedlund said. “We get jobs based on abilities but making those connections is just as important.”
Stevens disagrees with the notion of a ring helping in a job interview.
“What is a degree?” she said. “It’s not that different [from a ring], but it’s something you don’t have on your person. A ring is nothing more than that except of lot of money.”
Perhaps one Concordia grad who can offer perspective to the debate is Kayla Wendorff, a 2008 graduate. Wendorff is currently working as a marketing coordinator for a publishing company in Mexico City, and never bought a ring.
Wendorff says that in her case, wearing the Concordia ring wouldn’t have helped her get a job at all, because of the location.
“I know I wasn’t at a disadvantage because I live and work in Mexico City; no one [here] has ever heard of Concordia,” she wrote in an e-mail.
But Wendorff didn’t just choose not to buy a ring because of her international intentions. She also plans on working domestically soon, and says the ring would be unimportant to her then as well.
“When I opted not to get a ring, I decided that if the only reason someone would hire me was a ring, it probably wasn’t the kind of place I wanted to work,” she wrote. “And one day when I move back to the States, I am certain my future employer will look at my résumé and not my jewelry when making a decision.”
But regardless of any advantage (or lack thereof) of wearing a Cobber ring, another reason for the decoration is present: tradition.
The Cobber ring has been in existence for over 90 years, according to Hines. She says that Concordia ranks among the top 20 schools nationally in ring sales from Josten’s. Swedlund mirrored Hines’ point of tradition, saying that the Concordia ring is the second most recognized ring in the country, behind only the ring sold to midshipmen at the Naval Academy.
Hines also mentioned that other schools, including Luther, Minnesota State University Moorhead, North Dakota State University, and Oak Grove Lutheran have recently introduced class rings similar to Concordia’s.
“We’re quite fortunate,” she said. “Other schools have started to introduce rings, but our tradition is already established.”
Hines says that in an average year, anywhere from 400 to 500 Cobber rings are sold. Despite the soaring price of gold and the downturn in the economy, the ring sales have stayed about the same in the past couple of years. According to Hines, this very well could be because of the larger size of this year’s junior class, which could cancel out any lapse in sales.
Regardless of the cost or implications in the job market, Swedlund hopes that all Concordia students can connect to the college the way those with rings do. While he acknowledges that it’s not crucial for students to get a ring, he is still strongly in favor of the custom.
“It makes us whole,” he said. “It makes us relate to one another. Experiences are what make us Cobbers; the ring is just a symbol of that.”
Kayla Wendorff has her own story. It’s like that of any ring-wearing Cobber. On a plane to Mexico City, she met a Concordia grad, now a professor at Virginia Tech, who also didn’t have a ring. And although they didn’t get coffee and become lifelong friends, they did meet.
And they didn’t need rings to do so.
Position at The Concordian: Editor-in-Chief
Year in school: Senior
Hometown: Bertha, Minnesota
Favorite Newspaper: The Star Tribune
Favorite Writer: Mitch Albom
Catchphrase: See what I did there?