A Symbol of the Pack
This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting the restoration and completion of the Memorial Belltower. Click the link to learn more about the history of NC State’s Legend in Stone.
As he waited on the lawn outside Holladay Hall on Dec. 10, the Memorial Belltower rising tall behind him, NC State senior Alexander Figgatt held tight to a small, white box as his parents, Shelly and Patrick Figgatt, stood nearby.
As a student, Alexander was looking forward to what was about to happen, but it seemed possible on that Tuesday afternoon that Shelly, who received her undergraduate degree in 1993 and her DVM from the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1997, was perhaps the most excited family member in the moment.
“She’s been in touch every day this week, asking if this is still happening,” Alexander said.
That white box held both Alexander and Shelly’s NC State class rings, and the event they awaited was the opportunity for those rings to spend the night inside the tower.
This ring ceremony, formally called the Fellowship of the Ring, a twice-a-year ritual now for more than a decade at NC State, didn’t exist when Shelly and Patrick (’92) were students. These days, however, any alumnus or any student who has purchased a ring gets this chance to place their ring for the overnight stay in the well-known structure. In addition to those students and alumni placing rings, NC State ROTC members being commissioned may place their gold bars in the tower to spend the night.
“As an alumna, my ring does get to go in with his,” Shelly said. “When he said he wanted to go to State, I was excited — coming back here and having it come full circle with him is just a really neat thing.”
Patrick, who did not place a ring in the tower, was just as enthusiastic to be back on campus to witness this more newly minted university tradition.
“As much as has changed at State, the Belltower hasn’t,” he said.
The three were among hundreds who waited on the lawn that afternoon.
Tom Stafford, retired vice chancellor for student affairs, and Benny Suggs, executive director of the NC State Alumni Association and associate vice chancellor for alumni relations, got the crowd fired up before they began lining up to enter the tower’s Shrine Room.
Though there was no ring ceremony in his day, Suggs, a first-generation college student when he attended NC State, remembers picking up his class ring with a feeling of pride, like he was “walking across the Brickyard, feet not touching the ground.”
“I did leave my ring in the Belltower, later, and Tom said it would be different,” Suggs said. “Today, this ring is infused with the spirit of the wolf.”
Stafford, who leads regular Belltower tours now, talked to students about the history and significance of the tower and of their experience.
“We’re starting the ceremony on sacred ground,” Stafford said of where they stood.
In the fall of 1889, the first students to enroll at what was then the North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanical Arts moved into the top floors of Holladay Hall. Once the only part of campus, it’s now the northeast tip of a sprawling, two-part campus.
“The first students at NC State walked across this ground many, many times,” Stafford said.
This December’s particular group of students and alumni had the opportunity to place their rings during what could be considered another special moment in NC State history. The Belltower is in the midst of a major restoration that will include the installation of bells; the ring ceremony was timed for a short period during which scaffolding that had been surrounding the Belltower for a few months was removed and work was briefly halted.
“This is the most iconic structural building on our campus,” Stafford told the crowd. “There is no better place on campus for your rings to spend the night.”
Students lined up to enter the Belltower one at a time. They placed their ring boxes in front of the plaque bearing the names of fallen alumni from World War I, to whom the Belltower is dedicated as a memorial. Sometimes friends stepped in together, or like the Figgatts, family members joined as well.
Once the rings are placed and the Shrine Room door is locked, there’s a bit of secrecy behind exactly what happens to those rings during the night (and we’re not spoiling it). Students return to Reynolds Coliseum the following evening for a formal ceremony where they walk across the stage to reclaim their ring. It’s only during that ceremony that Stafford reveals to the crowd exactly what kind of magic he thinks the Belltower bestows upon the rings.
Ivey Brewer, a junior, had a sister, father and brother-in-law who attended NC State. She placed her ring in tribute to both family and university traditions.
“It was a tradition that I wanted to be a part of,” Brewer said. “It made me feel more connected to the university.”
She was joined by her friend, Spencer Johnson, also a junior, who added that the experience is a shared connection for students across campus, regardless of college or major.
“Everyone who gets a ring can participate,” Johnson said. “We all have something in common now.
“When we get them back tomorrow, it’s going to be really exciting. I think we’ll feel proud.”
Though the two friends don’t graduate immediately, Brewer said she plans to wear her class ring during those last final exams of her senior year, maybe bringing a little of that Belltower magic along with her.
“It signifies a lot,” she said. “It’s about all of the hard work you’ve put in.”