Hearing wedding bells: The Ring by Spring tradition

Courtesy Photo
Courtesy Photo
By Sarah Forsman

It was a nice day in April. The sun shone down on an emerald green pasture spotted with goldenrods and oak trees. Guests followed a grassy trail that had been carved by golf carts giving the elderly and stiletto-clad women rides to their seats. The guests soon took their designated places to watch a Baylor woman get her Ring by Spring.

Leawood, Kan., senior Leigh Sunderland said she met her future husband in a lab at Baylor.

“I met Blake in summer school during Chemistry lab,” Sunderland said. “Blake was trying to finish his last year of school and it was the only science lab he could get into. I had been trying to get into that lab for two previous semesters. He was across the lab bench and he had seen me at church, so he struck up a conversation.”

Despite the diamond ring on her finger, Sunderland said their romance took a while to get started.

“He asked me out at the end of that summer session, but I turned him down,” Sunderland said. “So we didn’t date until a year later.”

This chance encounter, then rejection, then acceptance, and finally engagement, all add up to the one thing that all Baylor women are presumed to desire: a Ring by Spring.

“I had heard if you go to school at Baylor, you’ll get your Ring by Spring,” Sunderland said. “People would always say to me, ‘I met my husband at Baylor.’ You’re always supposed to be watching. I always thought that was so dumb. My junior year, I really didn’t think I was going to meet my husband at Baylor, but then it happened to me.”

So what exactly is Ring by Spring?

“Sounds like something a Mrs. Degree would come up with,” said John Ginn, a 1986 Baylor graduate.

There is no textbook definition of Ring by Spring, or as some call it, a Mrs. Degree, but what is available is only word of mouth passed on from one love-sick college girl to another.

Ring by Spring is a saying for young college women who want to get engaged before they graduate from college, and in the opinions of some, solely go to college for this purpose.

Many of these women believe that college is where they will find their future spouses — and marry them — before they graduate in the spring.

“It wasn’t a big deal,” said Cathy Gray, Baylor class of 1988.

Gray, now a resident of Sulphur Springs, transferred into Baylor after attending two years of school at Texas Tech University.

After transferring, she met her future husband at one of Baylor’s oldest traditions: Sing.

“It was my senior year, my last semester at Baylor,” Gray said. “My roommate was trying to talk me into trying out for Sing and I didn’t want to because I was an elementary education major. I was student teaching that semester plus I was taking a night class because I needed one more class to graduate. She just wouldn’t let up. She was like, ‘You really need to do this, it’ll be so much fun’. So basically she drug me there to try out.”

Gray’s partner for the Sing practices and performances would later become her husband.

“So Darren supposedly said, ‘I want her to be my partner’ when I walked in,” Gray smiled. “I ended up being his partner. It was Sing and you practiced a lot so we were together a lot. We had our first date probably a week later.”

Gray insisted that she had never heard of Ring by Spring in her days at Baylor.

“We talked about getting married a lot but he never would officially ask me,” Gray laughed. “We knew we were going to get married, but he just wouldn’t give me a ring and it was driving me nuts.”

After graduating, Cathy and Darren Gray got engaged and were married in July of 1989.

It is possible that, like the Grays, Ring by Spring emerged from the large number of couples who seem to get married right out of college. But according to data from the Pew Research Center, many college educated people are delaying marriage until they are close to age 30.

According to college students, the most widely held belief on the origin of Ring by Spring can be found in the roots of Christianity, and some may argue, the origin of man. In the book of Genesis, God creates a woman named Eve to be the help mate for the first man, Adam.

Genesis 2:24 states that, “a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”

A large number of Christian women take from verses like this that getting married is a necessary part of their religion — as well as becoming an adult.

Due to the emphasis on marriage in at least some branches of Christianity, it makes sense that Ring by Spring is a popular saying in many Christian-based schools such as Notre Dame, Liberty University, Oklahoma Baptist University, and of course, Baylor.

“I had kind of heard of the tradition of Ring by Spring,” Cleburne freshman Allie Wheat said. “It’s always a joke of Ring by Spring, and girls trying to get it. It was never necessarily my goal to try and get a Ring by Spring.”

Wheat said she felt strongly that Christianity influences marriage.

“The way society has made it, it’s almost like you need to go to college and get established in a career before you can get married,” Wheat said. “They’ve also made it seem like some of the Christian morals that were so common back then aren’t so common today.”

Wheat has been dating Preston Hughes, also a freshman from Cleburne, Texas, for two and a half years. They are engaged to be married at 19 years old.

“We definitely have prayed about our relationship and we felt that this is the right thing for us to do,” Wheat said. “The way we got together was totally a God thing.”

With people like Wheat getting married so young, at least according to the national standard, is Ring by Spring a positive or negative tradition?

The opinions on Ring by Spring vary. On March 29, Susan A. Patton, a 1977 Princeton graduate, wrote a letter to The Daily Princetonian urging women to marry before they leave college. Patton’s letter caused an outcry among many feminists.

These feminists, and others who share the same view, believe that Ring by Spring interferes with women successfully completing their collegiate studies and becoming independent.

While those like Patton, who approve of Ring by Spring, believe that women will never have so many eligible and like-minded men from which to select a mate, and that it would be foolish to not take advantage of the opportunity.

Regardless of all of the opinions and statistics and what many may think of Ring by Spring, the words spoken by the bride-to-be, Sunderland, are an example of the thoughts of those who follow through with this unofficial Baylor tradition.

“I think we were just ready,” Sunderland said. “And maybe some people aren’t. If you really focus on maturing in Jesus and setting a foundation for the rest of your life, come senior year, you just might be ready to settle down.”