February 10, 2009

2011 Brass Rat Premiere

When I got into MIT it was a moment of instant prestige. I started wearing MIT t-shirts, hoodies, using MIT folders, yadda yadda yadda. Once I got to MIT it lost a certain amount of the prestige, not because it was any less amazing, but because I wasn't one of 12 people in the whole state that attended, I was one of 12,000. Everybody had the shirts, the hoodies, the folders, and the yadda yadda yadda. In fact, they had something more, they had Brass Rats. The "Brass Rat" is the nickname given to MIT's class ring, one of the most famous, iconic, and heavy finger decorations you can get. There are really only three rings that matter out there, the Super Bowl ring, the West Point ring, and the Brass Rat.

The Brass Rat gets its name from the large beaver on the bezel (bezel = top of ring) and the "brass" color of the gold ring. The Brass Rat is the "I go/went to MIT" sign that is a must have for almost all students. Job interviews, presentations, and wine&dines are all wonderful Brass Rat flashing moments. Just ask Tony Stark, he made sure to wear his to his charity benefit in the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

MIT students receive their rings during their sophomore year at MIT. The whole "Brass Rat Process" is deep rooted in tradition, highly involved, very procedural, and not something to be taken lightly.

Each year the Brass Rat has the same fundamental design. On the bezel is a beaver, on the shanks are the class year and "MIT," usually accompanied by a picture of the great dome and the MIT seal. In addition to all of the traditional aspects, each year's Brass Rat has a degree of customization that is specific to that graduating class. Iconic symbols, class years, and hidden messages are all common. The different symbols are what make each class's rings unique and special.

The whole process begins when the student council of the then freshman class announces the opportunity to apply to be a member of the "Ring Committee." The Brass Rat Ring Committee is solely responsible for all things Brass Rat. They decide the symbols that go on the ring, they draft the artwork, they work with the ring manufacturers (Balfour), they plan the delivery and premiere, and basically control what sits on our right ring finger for the rest of our lives. It's a big job, not one to be taken lightly, and this year there was all sorts of controversy surrounding the committee chosen to do the job.

The class of 2011 class council picks the Ring Committee and used a blind application process. They picked our committee based solely on merit and not on name or reputation. This sounds like a pretty good system, right? Turns out, if you want a Ring Committee that represents all the aspects of campus and represents a diverse spread of interests that includes an entire class, you can't do a blind application process. You end up with a very West-Campus-dominant Ring Committee, as I so tactfully pointed out in this entry (which, incidentally, was one of the only admissions blog entries removed from the admissions website). In addition to this entry, there was so much controversy surrounding our Ring Committee that they ended up adding a 13th member to the Ring Committee, one from East Campus.

After selecting a Ring Committee, there are only two really big moments that the rest of the class experiences, Ring Premiere and Ring Delivery. Ring Premiere is in February and is a chance for the Ring Committee to share the final design of the ring with the rest of the class. Ring Delivery is later, late April or early May, and is a formal event in some grandiose location in or around Boston. In past years delivery has been held at concert halls, beautiful libraries, and yacht clubs.

We haven't had delivery yet, but on Friday we had the 2011 Brass Rat Premiere. I'll say it right now, my friends and I were excited to get there early, get awesome seats, and were primed to sling insults, shouts of displeasure, and general discontentment at the Ring Committee. We decided that, at best, the Brass Rat would be "passable."

The doors opened at 7 PM, we were there at 6 in order to get our seats. We showed up just in time to see the Ring Committee all get their Brass Rats 3 months before us (one of the perks). We stared through the window into the building as they all put their rings on, posed for photo opps, and walked around kissing their rings. We watched, from outside in the cold, running over the insults in our heads, ready for the big moment.

Fast forward 50 minutes and there was suddenly a massive line stretching all the way from Kresge Auditorium past the Student Center, and there we were, still at the front of the line, waiting in the cold to be let in. 7:02 PM. 30 degrees outside. Four class of 2012 ushers standing inside, not letting us in. We waited. Finally, Mitch (a member of the Ring Committee) told them to let us in. Woo-hoo! All praises be to Mitch, our now favorite Ring Committee member.

The doors opened, we flooded in, and our group of 10 snagged seats near the back of the auditorium. Very strategic, actually, since all sorts of free swag was going to be given out at the end of the presentation and would be available in the lobby. Last row = fastest access to the lobby, a chance to beat the throngs of "angry about their rings" 2011's trying to get their shirts and shot glasses.

We sat and chatted excitedly for a half an hour, listening to the DJ Girltalk playing in the auditorium and trying to figure out where that really strong waffle and syrup smell was coming from (turns out there was a guy standing behind us eating Waffle Crisp cereal).

And then it began as the 13 members of the Ring Committee walked out onto the stage to applause from the audience. We sat, eager, waiting to see what Brass Rat scariness awaited. Would there be another lightning bolt like on the '10 ring? A galaxy representing the boundlessness of our character? First up, the hackers map.

The hackers map is an engraving that can be found on the underside of the bezel. It maps the extensive MIT tunnel system that students frequent if they're trying to get from building to building either secretly or to avoid the harsh weather. With a hackers map on our rings, we're sure never to get lost when we come back as alumni and need to use the tunnel system. There was a new addition to the map this year, the Koch Cancer Research building, situated to the right of the Stata Center. Here's what our hackers map looks like.

The audience clapped appreciably. There was nothing particularly special about the hackers map, but there rarely is. There isn't a lot of liberty to take, but at least there wasn't a huge nightmare on it. Actually, I have to give credit to our Ring Committee, several hours after premiere I started getting comments from people back home that our hackers map looked like an elephant. I took another look, and sure enough, it looks exactly like an elephant. See?

Next were the skylines. On either side of the bezel is a skyline, one of Cambridge and one of Boston. This is when things started getting interesting. Let's take a look at the Cambridge side first.

Each of the buildings was picked specifically to represent an important aspect of MIT. From left to right, the first is Kresge Auditorium, where Ring Premiere was currently being held. Next is the Student Center. Third is Ashdown, a dorm that represents the new living community MIT is introducing. Centered is the main group of buildings on campus, including the great dome. Next in line is the Stata Center. When we saw the Stata Center we started laughing out loud. I still don't know if it was intentional or just turned out that way, but I can't think of any better way to represent the Stata Center in profile than as a pile of bumpy crap. I was starting to regain some faith in our Ring Committee. After the Stata center is the Green Building followed by Walker Memorial, where we take most of our Final Exams.

I said things got interesting, remember? Let's take a look at the Green Building for a second.

The legend goes that the world will end if ever all of the lights in the Green Building are turned off at the same time. The Ring Committee recognized this by lighting some of the windows in the building . . . BUT . . . not just any windows. They lit very specific windows. Almost like . . . some kind of code. Like, like they could possibly mean something. Maybe it would make more sense if I added some labels to their design of the Green Building, and maybe change the windows a bit.

Yes, that's right, the windows are binary for 2011. The auditorium erupted into applause! My heart flickered with hope. Binary on the Green Building was really creative! It was actually, dare I say it, good! We all looked at each other while we applauded, a cautiously optimistic cloud hovered around us. The presentation continued by showing off the 1's on the sail boats and talking about the night sky. Cambridge is shown with an evening sky, representing all the late nights we spend doing homework and working hard. The other skyline, the Boston skyline, is shown in the day time, representing our many excursions into the city on weekends.

On the left are the Hancock building and the Hanckock tower, centered is the Prudential Center, and on the right you can see the Citgo Sign and Fenway Park.

The next unveiling was that of the Seal Shank. The side of the ring with the MIT seal is known as the "Seal Shank." In past years there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Seal on the Brass Rat, Ring Committees past have made some modifications that anger a lot of people. Changing around the flame on the lamp, adding laptops to the seal, and even changing one of the men to a woman.

Now, I'm not opposed to having a woman on our ring at all, BUT, I am opposed to changing the MIT seal. If it's modified it is no longer the MIT seal and it probably doesn't belong on the ring as the seal. Our Ring Committee apparently agrees, because when they unveiled the Seal Shank it featured a classic and unchanged seal.

Underneath the seal is the "MIT Nuts and Bolts" emblem that, although most people have never seen or heard of it, has been featured on Brass Rats of old.

Take a look at the screws holding it together. . . "X + I" or, for those of us who aren't Roman, 10+1, which as we all know, equals 11. Hey! 11! That's us! More applause from the audience. It was becoming pretty obvious that any symbolism on this ring was going to be smoothly incorporated and not merely tacked on. My friends and I started to get excited. This was no longer an occasion for jeers, it was an opportunity to sit eagerly and await the next special symbol on our ring.

Hiding behind the "Nuts and Bolts" was a loop of track with some offshoots.

I instantly recognized it as the Large Hadron Collider, which finished its construction this year. More awesomely subtle symbolism for our Brass Rat and more applause from the audience. The Ring Committee next unveiled the Class Shank, which usually features our class year and the Great Dome.

At first I was confused by the woman sitting in the chair, that took some explanation. Apparently it was Athena, which all of a sudden made a whole lot more sense. MIT's Linux-based, homemade operating system is called "Athena" and it's impossible to spend more than a day on campus without hearing about her. She's surrounded by laurel and oak leaves that represent strength and wisdom (some hokey symbolism, but ok), and hidden in the leaves are the letters IHTFP, MIT's infamous, double-meaning motto. But. . . but what is that on Athena's right hand? What is she doing?

She's flashing the right-hand rule! You go Athena! More than ever the audience was getting pumped. If the shanks were this cool, what would the bezel be like!? Underneath Athena is an owl, the symbol of our operating system.

Hey, wait, why does our owl have crack-cocaine eyes? Did somebody hit him with a baseball bat? No? Wait, are those . . . letters? Yeah, that left eye looks like a "U" and that right eye looks like an "n". On the left, there, the side of the owl's face, that looks like a "P" and on the far right I can make out a "T." OMG, that owl says Punt! And, then, as if by magic, a simple flip of the wrist and BOOM!

Punt now reads Tool, encompassing two of the main ideals of MIT, work and play. Finally, the last feature on this shank, are some mysterious silhouettes on the roof. Upon closer examination you can see three hackers, getting ready to create some engineering hijinks under the cover of darkness.

Even more applause (can you tell that the audience likes the ring yet?) One of the concerns with an all-west-campus Ring Committee was a potential lack of hacking culture. Concerns quelled, props earned by Ring Committee.

And finally, the bezel. This is what we'd all been waiting for. And finally, there it was, our Bezel!

Two beavers, one with a Guy Fawkes mask, the other with Aviators, a physics clicker, and a super burrito from Anna's. Next to the beavers is a crane, representing the construction at MIT, driven by the infamous Charlie the Unicorn. Some of MIT's famous architecture is featured on the left, Kresge Auditorium and the Z Center, complete with students spelling "PUNT."

We laughed. We laughed and laughed and laughed. Surely this must be a joke, and it was. A good joke, but still a joke. At last the real bezel was to be revealed.

Cue the most applause of the evening. It was beautiful! The beaver was classy, the skyline was clean, and there was something different about it. The beaver, instead of sitting on some non-descript shore on the Cambridge side of the Charles River was sitting on the Harvard Bridge, the link that connects MIT to Boston and an oft-travelled route of many an MIT student. In the background are two bridges, the Longfellow and the Zakim (otherwise known as the awesome looking one). On the Longfellow bridge is a red line train, another primary mode of transportation for MIT students. Another difference between this bezel and bezels past is the placement of Cambridge and Boston. Normally Cambridge is on the right and Boston on the left, but due to the beaver's new position on the bridge, the shorelines were flipped. On the Cambridge side you can see the Great Dome, the Stata Center, the Green Building (sans binary) and again, Walker Memorial. On the Boston side is the Hancock Building, next to the Hancock Tower (designed with a vertical divider that makes it resemble an 11), and then on the far right is the Prudential Center. At the base of the Prudential Center is a building that looks like a blocky "w." It's not a "w" though, it's the circuit diagram for the newly discovered circuit element the "memristor," discovered our freshman year.

On the bridge the number "150" can be seen on the ground. The 150, actually a Smoot(!) is there to commemorate both the 50th anniversary of the Smoot, but also to recognize the sesquicentennial birthday of MIT that will fall on our graduation year. But, we're not the 150th graduating class, we're the 144th, and so that this doesn't get forgotten the beaver has twelve by twelve hatches on his tail. Also present is the MIT logo spelled out in the railing of the bridge.

Underneath the beaver are 8 ivy leaves (to represent the 8 ivy league schools) that are being crushed under the weight of MIT's accomplishments. One of the leaves is different though, it resembles a spade. This is a nod to both MIT's blackjack team (and the movie "21") and to our orientation theme (casino). This was one of the only parts of the ring that may have gotten a groan or two. A lot of people at MIT aren't thrilled about the movie "21" (inaccurate, not filmed at MIT, etc) and are getting tired of casinos (remember, we were the class of 007 in high school, there's a lot James Bond in our lives).

Finally, for the beaver's possessions. He holds a globe to represent the global initiatives going on at MIT, a diploma to represent our graduation, and a scale to symbolize the balance between work and play. Growing from the scale is a sapling, a sign that MIT is "going green" and enacting new energy initiatives.

And that's it, that's the ring as revealed at our Ring Premiere. We were stoked! I have to say, I came to Ring Premiere highly skeptical and had every preconception flipped on its head. I truly believe that this is one of the best Brass Rats ever designed. Now, to finish of the Premiere, the Ring Committee announced when and where Ring Delivery would be. The location, the Citi Performing Arts Center.

What made the evening more outstanding was the pulling of raffle tickets between unveilings. The prizes started as cherry ring boxes and iTunes gift cards, evolved into $100 Brass Rat gift cards, and by the end of it they were giving out three free Brass Rats.

Of the ~10 raffle tickets drawn, I won a ring box and gift card, Sam and Pegler won $100 gift cards, and Maddie won a free ring! We were the winningest section of the night!

We left the auditorium and grabbed our shirts and shot glasses before the mob hit the lobby. We streamed back to the dorm and started blabbing and bragging about our ring to everybody who wasn't there, and the excitement is still going on. I was fit for and ordered my Brass Rat yesterday and am eagerly waiting for May 8th so I can get my very own Brass Rat!

I hope you enjoyed the long read, I tried to be as thorough as possible. I'll make sure to blog about delivery as well.

Oh, one more thing, all of these images (other than the theater picture and Tony Stark) are super high resolution if you click on them. I'd recommend it! Thanks for reading.