KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — For all the craziness a semester in New York City can possibly throw at a theatre major, Jake Wallace always had one thing grounding him back to reality.
"Especially as a theatre major pursuing the arts, it's something I can look back on and kind of think, ok. That was a really great time in my life," Wallace said. "I can continue making more great times."
He's talking about a stately gold class ring, bestowed upon him his junior year at Hardin Valley Academy, that saw him through the countless star-studded luncheons and meetings with Tony Award-winning playwrights that began to define his life in The Big Apple.
"On one side we had the Hawk mascot and I was the high school mascot for three years. I also discovered my passion for theatre [in high school]." Wallace said. "I had a lot of those memories attached to it."
In short, the thing hadn't left his right ring finger since he graduated high school back in 2015.
But when he returned from NYC for three days and went to skip rocks over at Knoxville's Cove Lake with high school pals last May, he glanced up.
The ring was gone.
His friends searched the lake's murky water for hours, clutching anything shiny in the hopes of finding the ring that somehow held all those memories - winning Homecoming Prince his senior year, that time he was voted "Most Talented" in his high school yearbook, those shows he starred in - within its tiny inscriptions.
"I knew my ring was loose, I had lost some weight over the semester in New York. But I didn't think it was that loose," Wallace laughed.
So he moved on, missing his original ring so much that his parents actually gifted him an exact replica ring last year.
He wore that replica ring throughout the rest of his senior year at Belmont University.
"It was one of the most meaningful presents I ever received," Wallace said. "I opened it up on my birthday and was blown away."
It wasn't until almost a year after he lost his beloved original that YouTuber Matt Ryan ventured to the same swimming spot.
And, as has been his habit since starting his own YouTube channel two years ago, Ryan brought his metal detector in tow.
"My specialty is gold rings," Ryan said. "I’ve already found 75 rings. Ten of them have been gold."
Ryan had no way of knowing the ring he unearthed belonged to someone who missed it so much that he wore an exact replica of it at all times.
He only knew that, unlike the other ones he found, this one had engravings which could help him track down the original owner.
So, he posted a video of the discovery to 1,500 subscribers on his channel, Tennessee Adventures.
"I know when I find something like that, there could have been sentimental value behind it you know," Ryan said. "For me as an individual, that’s the right thing. I try to get it back."
He also took it one step further and Googled HVA, further concluding it must mean Hardin Valley Academy.
He promptly reached out to a Karns Community Facebook Group from a personal account and, within hours, he connected with Wallace.
"[He] actually emailed me and he told me the ring," Ryan said. "What it looked like, and where exactly he lost it."
For now, the original ring hasn't been reunited with Wallace. But he rests assured that it is nestled safely among the collection of Civil War buttons, wedding rings, and scratched coins from the 1800s that a YouTuber who isn't in it for the money was able to find for him.
"It’s not about the gold or the profit off of it," Ryan said. "It’s getting it back to the rightful owner.
Wallace graduates with a degree in theatre this May and plans to move back to New York in September.
He said both rings - the original and replica - will empower him during this next phase of his life.
"It brings everything full circle," Wallace said. "So it's kind of a reminder to look forward to the future and see all the new things in store."
Wallace and Ryan have coordinated a meet up to transfer the ring later this week.