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Small ring with a big heart
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for Dalhousie University Faculty of Agriculture students- final projects are being polished, exams are soon-to-be written, graduation is in sight. But it’s not necessarily Convocation that students are looking forward to. For all, the end of an era draws to a close. And while many will be saddened to move away from the Dal AC campus, all are looking forward to one thing that will ensure they are a part of the Aggie family forever- the long anticipated presentation of the Barley Rings at the 2018 Barley Party.
The Barley Party is an annual celebration for students who have purchased a Barley ring, Dal AC’s widely recognized graduation ring. Held in Jenkins Hall on the evening of April 6, students will enjoy a meal prepared by Chartwell’s staff and will be called to the front of the room one-by-one to accept their custom made stainless steel, or gold, ring with imprints of barley. In honour of Dal’s 200th anniversary celebrations, students will also receive a small gift, from the Alumni office, with their Barley ring.
Wide, narrow, gold, stainless, ring finger, middle finger- no matter the style, the Barley ring symbolizes the end of an era and a welcome into Dal AC’s alumni family. This year will be the 9th year that the Barley Party is hosted on the Agricultural Campus. A sense of pride and accomplishment comes over those who played a part in developing the ring and the celebration in 2010.
“Being a part of the design and implementation of the Barley ring is by far one of my proudest moments of my career,” says Alisha Johnson, Alumni Relations Officer who played a major role in the development of the Barley ring and Barley Party. “I get excited every time an alum orders a ring, but the feeling at the Barley Party is unlike any other. The vibe in the room at the Barley Party is indescribable.”
Since its launch nine years ago, the Barley ring has become a widely recognized symbol of the Faculty of Agriculture and the Dalhousie Agricultural Campus. The textured design features a pattern of barley around the band of the rings and each ring is handmade by jeweller, Donna Hiebert. Rings have been recognized amongst AC alumni around the world and are often a conversation piece, sometimes leading to new partnerships and opportunities around the globe. This fall, at the campus’ annual Ring Days, the 1,000th Barley ring was sold to an unknowing student. Lucky number 1,000 was ordered by Bri Carkner, a fourth year student from Ontario. Bri’s ring was paid for by the Alumni Office and a celebration was held in the Dalhousie Students’ Association lounge. Bri will receive her ring along with her classmates at the Barley Party.
While the Barley Party is most popular among graduating students, the tradition is becoming increasingly popular with past alumni as well, particularly those who have a child graduating. This year, classmates Ella Wood and Rebecca MacSwain will be receiving their rings alongside their mothers, Carolyn (MacQuarrie) Wood and Lynda (Ramsay) MacSwain, who were classmates in 1989.
"Something mom and I definitely have in common is our passion and our love for agriculture,” explains Rebecca. “The Barley rings are something we will always have to show for that, and we are so excited to have the opportunity to receive them at the same time. Growing up it was very obvious to me the network of agricultural connections my mom was able to make as a result of her years spent at Dal AC (NSAC) were very important. I'm excited to say that after completing my four years, I feel I've been able to achieve the same thing, and look forward to a future in a career where I have made such a strong network of connections."
"My mom has been a very influential person in my life and she is the reason that I decided to pursue a career in agriculture and study at the AC,” adds Ella. “I am honoured to able to share this experience with her."
Mollie Pickard and father, Edward Pickard (Class of ’84) will also receive their Barley rings together at the Barley Party.
“It’s amazing to see how the Barley Party has naturally evolved since 2010,” Alisha says. “The tradition of parents attending and receiving their rings alongside their son or daughter just happened. It certainly adds an extra special element to the evening.”
While students look forward to the Barley Party the most, the rest of campus can’t help but feel the excitement. Each year, the Alumni Association allows for an honourary ring to be presented. Honourary rings are awarded to individuals who do not meet the criteria to be eligible for a Barley Ring but who are extremely deserving of the honour. These individuals are ambassadors and supporters of the institution. They have made outstanding contributions to the Dal AC community and truly depict the characteristics of an AC alumnus. The honourary ring recipient is not aware that they will be receiving the ring until the moment they are presented with it. This year, the 10th honourary ring will be presented.
“This year’s honourary ring recipient has been a supporter and ambassador of the Agricultural Campus for many years,” Alisha hints. “The Alumni Association and DASA feel this individual represents what it means to be a true Aggie. Presenting the honourary ring is always a highlight of the night.”
Receiving an honourary ring from the Alumni Association is an experience like no other. In 2017, Dr. Claude Caldwell, past Associate Dean Academic and professor, accepted his honorary ring to a standing ovation from staff and students in the room. Dr. Caldwell spent 33 years at the Ag Campus and retired last summer. Receiving the honourary ring was a highlight of his career.
“I was deeply moved to the point of not being able to thank the students verbally,” Dr. Caldwell says. “I hope they understood the depth of my gratitude and how much the honour meant to me; at the time, I could only bow to acknowledge the ovation. I knew those students and to have them stand to acknowledge me is a highlight of my career not to be soon forgotten.”
As the Barley Party draws near, graduating students can’t help but to look forward to accepting the long-awaited Barley ring. Outsiders may see it as ‘just a ring’ but to Aggies, it’s a small token to remind them of the memories and opportunities that came of their time spent at Dal AC. It’s been recognized in countries all around the world and while it may just be a small ring, it certainly has a big heart.