McKINNEY — The staff had been keeping watch for several days waiting for the package to arrive, and when the small box finally landed at the front doors of Reuben Johnson Elementary, Principal Suzy Woodard found within it one of the most personal, heartfelt birthday gifts that she had ever received – a Texas A&M Aggie ring.
And when she slipped it on her finger for the first time, it helped set right 31 years of regret.
“I think that anyone who is an Aggie is going to really get the significance of this,” said Woodard, who was overwhelmed by the gesture. “And for it to be such a personal and thoughtful gift and to come from my staff and my family and friends is just so meaningful. To have it come at this point in my life from so many people that I love ... amazing.”
An Aggie without an Aggie ring just isn’t quite right. Perhaps no other school in America is more rooted in tradition or holds more tightly to those traditions than Texas A&M University. And, one of the most anticipated and cherished moments in the life of an Aggie is the day that they receive their Aggie ring. It’s a sacred symbol of the bond that all Aggies share, the embodiment of that “spirit that can ne’er be told.”
But, for Woodard, that moment never happened. She never got a ring. With the passage of time, the circumstances have become somewhat hazy. “I think I just did not have the money at the time,” she said. Whatever the reason, not getting her Aggie ring has been a source of regret for Woodard, whose life is marked by a deep pride in her Texas A&M roots. She is an Aggie. Her husband is an Aggie. Her son is an Aggie.
The idea for the gift took root when Media Resource Specialist Laura Bates’ daughter received her Aggie ring. “My daughter just got her ring in October,” said Bates, “and I was talking to somebody, and I said, ‘I never have understood why Suzy Woodard does not have a ring. She’s the proudest Aggie I know!’ And, I think it was actually Julie Grant who said, ‘Y’all should get her a ring.’ And, I went, ‘You’re right! We should!’”
With Woodard’s birthday approaching in late November, Bates and the Johnson Elementary staff went to work covertly collecting money and the required paperwork to purchase the ring – even sneaking around to figure out her ring size. And they found plenty of people who were eager to help.
“Everyone that we talked to was just like, ‘I want to help! I want to do it!’ Her hairdresser contributed. Former staff members, you know, people that she had worked with previously, her other assistant principals – everybody wanted to contribute and help,” said Bates.
The staff arranged to announce the gift just a few days before Woodard’s birthday at their Jaguar Team Time celebration before the Thanksgiving break. Bates invited Woodard’s parents, who were in town for the holiday, to join the celebration.
As she stood in front of the student body listening to PE coach Lisa Stout address the audience about Aggie traditions, Woodard began to realize what was happening. “When I started putting it all together, what Coach Stout was saying about Aggie traditions and one that I had missed, my heart was beating faster,” she said.
“What a personal gift. It’s something that they knew would mean so much to me and really touch me.”
But, the ring itself would take a couple of weeks to arrive – a long couple of weeks for Bates and the rest of the staff who were eager to present it to Woodard. “We were just waiting all day as I was watching out the window for the UPS truck, and we were all going, ‘Is it here? Is it here? Is it here?’” said Bates.
When it finally arrived, Woodard shared the moment with the entire school over the broadcast system. “It was live on camera, and I was like, ‘Ok! This is the moment of truth,’” said Woodard. “And the ring went right on just beautifully. All day yesterday, when I was going around to classrooms, the kids wanted to see it – and I think maybe our kindergarteners thought that I was getting married. I’m not sure that they totally got the significance of a college ring and what that meant, or an Aggie ring. But, they all wanted to see it. It’s just been really sweet, and a lot of them have made a connection. They’ll say, ‘I have an Aggie friend,’ or ‘My uncle is an Aggie, so I like the Aggies.’ It’s nice to see them form those connections.”
For Aggies, the significance of the gift is apparent.
For those of us who are not Aggies, a colleague offered this personal account to help explain the spirit that the Aggie ring represents: It seems that, not long ago, he had taken his wife out to celebrate their anniversary at a fine restaurant. When he indicated to the server that he was ready to pay his bill – which was well over $100 – he was informed that it had already been taken care of. The server, observing my friend’s confusion at this news, pointed out the Aggie ring on my friend’s hand and explained that another patron wanted to cover the bill for a fellow Aggie. He didn’t leave a name and never identified himself. He could have been any Aggie – or every Aggie.
And I guess maybe that’s the point.
You’ve met Suzy Woodard. Here are some other Aggies who help make McKinney ISD the great district that it is (with apologies to any we may have missed).
Richard H. Edwards
Dr. Danny Ledbetter
Dr. Michelle Mills
Dr. Laura Simmons
For additional information on McKinney ISD, contact Shane Mauldin, MISD Communications Coordinator, at 469-302-4007 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About McKinney ISD
One of the fastest growing school districts in Texas, the McKinney Independent School District currently enrolls more than 24,000 students in 20 elementary schools, five middle schools, three high schools, one alternative school and one early childhood education school. The mission of McKinney ISD, the champion for progressive learning throughout the diverse McKinney community, is to inspire and equip all students to explore, develop and express their unique potential as innovators, critical thinkers and collaborators through challenging, engaging and diverse learning experiences in vital partnership with the community. Visit the district's website at mckinneyisd.net.