An Aggie Ring Comes Full Circle
Two years ago, Walid Azzam ’79 began frantically searching his house, leaving no couch cushion unturned, no nook or cranny unexplored. He called every place he had visited in the last week and enlisted friends and family to form a makeshift search party but to no avail.
After nearly 40 years, he had lost his Aggie Ring.
For Azzam, his ring was a symbol of his journey to the United States, his on-campus job that helped pay his tuition, the hundreds of cocktails he mixed as a bartender at El Chico’s restaurant to afford housing and the thousands of burgers he flipped working the graveyard shift at Jack in the Box – a gig he took solely to pay for his ring.
“An Aggie Ring means a lot to me,” Azzam said. “It lets people know I’m an engineer, and I’m a Texas A&M graduate. I’ve had my ring since 1979, and then it disappeared. I was so mad. I had to work a third job from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. to come up with the $350 to buy the ring because having an Aggie Ring just means so much.”
The value of his ring began accumulating long before arriving in College Station. As an engineering student at his technical school in Lebanon, Azzam had his sights set on moving to Texas.
“In Lebanon, there is an engineering committee within the government body,” he said. “My dad asked the committee which universities in Texas accepted my engineering certificate. The choice was between The University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University, so of course, I chose Texas A&M.”
But before his Aggie journey could begin, he had to learn English. Azzam arrived in the United States in 1975 and enrolled at Blinn College. After a year of practicing the language and taking classes at Blinn, he applied and was accepted to the Department of Engineering Technology and Industrial Distribution at Texas A&M, where he specialized in engineering design.
“Since high school, I knew I wanted to be an engineer,” he said. “A lot of the courses (in Lebanon) were in French. But math and physics and chemistry, science or English, they’re all the same thing. A formula is a formula.”
Azzam took his can-do mentality wherever he went, and after four years of perseverance, he purchased his well-deserved Aggie ring, walking the stage with his fellow graduates.
“Nobody can tell me they cannot make it through school,” he said. “I have a lot of people I know who tell me, ‘Oh, I cannot pass.’ I came from Lebanon and graduated and got a degree in engineering. You can do it. It’s possible. It just takes a little bit of will.”
Immediately upon graduation, Azzam began his career working as a quality control manager at a hangar, helping repair various types of aircraft. While building his resume, he was also building a family, starting with welcoming his daughter, Jaclyn “Rhie” Azzam, into the world.
“My mom, Cathy Arnett ’79, was a waitress at El Chico’s where my dad was a bartender,” Rhie said. “My story began because of my dad’s journey from Lebanon to Texas A&M. On my mom’s side, my grandfather and uncle are Aggies, as well as a long list of other family members. I was born an Aggie all the way through.”
Azzam has remained in the engineering business his entire life. A husband and father of four adult children, he is currently working as a director of operations for Global Turbine Services, Inc. in Miami. Most recently, the company is repairing B-52H Stratofortress engines for the United States Air Force.
“The head of the engineering department back then used to tell us, ‘That degree is nothing. It is just a piece of paper,'” Azzam said. “He was right; It’s up to you to see what you can accomplish.”
Azzam’s Aggie Ring represented a cornerstone in his life. Being an Aggie shaped his family, his future and his identity. He made sure to pass the Aggie spirit down to his children.
“I love how tradition is so important at Texas A&M,” said Rhie. “I remember when I graduated from high school in Dallas. My dad came to watch from Florida, and he let me wear his Aggie Ring for the summer until I saw him again. It was a huge deal. The ring is a stamp of tradition.”
When Azzam called Rhie relaying the news that the ring was gone, she was stunned. She understood the adversity he’d faced and conquered to purchase the ring. The moment Rhie hung up, she made a secret vow with her husband that they would order a replacement one day.
“Aggies are part of my dad’s strength and happiness. I just wanted to make sure that he could carry that with him,” she said.
On June 20, the day before Father’s Day, Rhie hopped on an early flight to Miami to celebrate with her dad for the first time in almost 20 years. Upon arrival, she rushed into the house to gather their family members in the living room.
As he opened a perfectly wrapped package, he delicately pulled out a small, maroon box embossed with the Texas A&M logo. The whole family anxiously awaited as he slowly creaked open the container to reveal the surprise. Showing the present to his family first, he then slipped the gold ring onto his finger; an exact replica of the ring he ordered in 1979, down to the engraving.
“Literally, I had tears in my eyes,” Azzam said. “I was so excited. I could not believe she had ordered the same ring.”
The Aggie ring once again took its rightful place on Azzam’s right hand – an eternal reminder to himself and his family of what it truly means to be an Aggie.
“When he opened it, it was just a pure human moment,” Rhie said. “There are no words for it. I will carry that (moment) for the rest of my life.”
Azzam’s Aggie Ring is proudly displayed on his nightstand, never again leaving his side.
“I’m just proud to be an Aggie,” he said.