There’s a lot I like about St. Francis Xavier University. Its pleasant campus, the small town charm of Antigonish, its rich history. But the ridiculous obsession that the university and its alumni have with their university ring…
Yes, it’s December again, and that means it’s time for the annual X-ring ceremony at the storied Nova Scotia campus. If you don’t live in the Maritimes, it’s hard to imagine how crazy people are for this ring. The University has multiple web pages devoted to it, complete with close-up glamour shots that look like they were taken for a Mercedes-Benz advertisement. Graduates await the ceremony like kids awaiting Christmas, and like so many Gollums out of Tolkein, they count the days til they can get their hands on the precious, the precious.
It’s common in these parts to hear students admit, with not a whiff of shame, that the only reason they are going at to X at all is to get the ring when they graduate. It’s as if they think that once the ring is on, Professor X himself will find them and invite them to his grad school for superheroes.
The university even has the gall to repeat the claim that their ring is “the third most recognized ring in the world.” Seriously? Show me the studies.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the school, and I’m sure lots of fine people go there, have gone there, and are there right now. But the whole ring thing is,in my view, downright unseemly.
Let’s leave aside the fact that the ring itself, stamped simply with a big black X like a branded steer or a carton of dirty magazines, is just plain ugly (though I freely admit that my own university’s ring is uglier). And let’s also overlook the aura of self-congratulatory creepiness by which the university promotes the ring ceremony like it’s the initiation rite of a secret cult: the ring, they say, is “the unmistakable emblem that links you to fellow Xaverians around the world for the rest of your life.”
And let’s focus instead on the real problem with the X-ring obsession: it reduces the whole grand enterprise of higher education to a thing. A cold metal thing that you shell out hundreds of bucks for. Of course, I realize that it’s meant to be a symbol, and university life is quite rightly replete with honoured symbols and traditions.
But if you’re not careful, the symbol starts to become more important than the thing it symbolizes, and the thing it symbolizes becomes trivialized if not forgotten. It’s this sort of thinking that allows foolish people to dismiss a degree as no more than “a piece of paper.”
And then it’s no longer a symbol. It’s an idol. A shiny, golden, precious idol — marked with a big black X.
Todd Pettigrew (PhD) is an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University.
Editor’s Note To All St. Francis Xavier Students, Staff and Alumni: Do you agree with Prof. Pettigrew? Or will you defend your beloved X-Ring? Let us know in the comments section below.