Student veterans at Texas A&M can receive special scholarships from the Aggie Rings for Veterans Program to help fund their Aggie gold.
The Aggie Rings for Veterans Program was started in 2013 after discovering that a student veteran could not afford to purchase a ring. Since then, the program has helped provide funds for 371 pieces of Aggie gold. This program, which relies on donations to help cover the cost of the rings, is sponsored by a partnership between the Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center and the Association of Former Students.
Tom Wisdom, a Class of 1960 class agent, said his class is a significant contributor to the program. Since their creation, they have already given out 82 Aggie Rings.
“Veterans are having so much trouble by the time they get to 90 hours [because] that’s about the time their GI bill is starting to run out,” Wisdom said. “My class has really gotten behind this, and we are so proud that we have been able to help this many veterans make sure they get their Aggie Ring.”
Director of the Don & Ellie Knauss Veteran Resource & Support Center Col. Jerry Smith said the program’s goal is to make student veterans feel that they are a part of the Aggie family during their time at A&M.
“They appreciate the Aggie culture because the core values are very much like those of the military,” Smith said. “For a donor to help you obtain that outward symbol that shows you’re a part of that Aggie family — I’ve seen grown men, combat veterans, cry on Ring Day because they are so appreciative. We at Texas A&M serve well those who have served.”
A 20-year Army veteran and maritime studies senior, John Vandewater, received a scholarship after going to browse for a ring and being asked if he had applied for the scholarship program.
“I am shocked,” Vandewater said. “It is really neat that they reached out and did that even after I did not know much about the program.”
With the changes to the traditional Ring Day, the veterans in Galveston who received their rings from the program were still able to have a small ceremony with the donors and their families. Vandewater said Wisdom encouraged him to bring his whole family for the event and celebrate the accomplishment.
“We had a wonderful setting and a wonderful crowd to get to meet these people and their families,” Wisdom said. “We are paying these veterans by helping them get that Aggie Ring to help them be proud of being an Aggie looking forward.”
One of the program’s goals is to connect donors and students on a personal level. Many of the student veterans stay in contact with their donors because of the shared experiences in the military.
“[Wisdom] had the same job in the army even though we have like 40 years difference, but we were both armored cavalrymen, so it’s a really small world,” Vandewater said. “We clicked right off the bat, and he was really interesting to talk to. The things that those guys went through in Vietnam and their service was much different than what we went through.
“I feel like I can learn a lot from him, and he got out of the military and has been through everything that I am going through.”