Mia Wise, Staff Writer
There is a quick fix for one of the biggest headaches of graduation season: purchasing a cap and gown. Now, students can buy reduced-priced graduation regalia donated by Mason alumni.
Gowns for Grads is a program that lends donated caps and gowns from Mason alumni to current graduates unable to pay for graduation wear.
The program’s Facebook page states, “Gowns for Grads, Mason’s no-cost cap and gown lending program, helps students in need make their dream of walking at graduation come true.”
Gowns for Grads was up and running by the first week of February this year and more than 100 students have applied for the program since applications closed on April 1. Amanda Myers, an academic advisor for the criminology, law ands society department, started the program after a personal experience with one of her students.
“One of my undergraduate students had fallen on hard times financially, and when I explained she had to buy her graduation regalia, she broke down crying,” Myers said. “When she left my office, I broke down crying too, because I realized there must be other students in her situation, and I truly believe that every student that has worked so hard at Mason deserves to walk across the stage at graduation and not have to choose between buying graduation regalia or paying an electric bill or something.”
The experience was so moving that Myers decided to start a program for students in need. “I believe when students come this far, Mason should help our first generation and low-income students get across the stage,” Myers said.
Myers started the program from scratch, but with the help of students, alumni and family, she was able to get the word out. Comments all over the group’s Facebook page are from people trying to help by donating their graduation regalia.
Myers also received help from Mason’s Pop-Up Pantry as well as from University Life. The Pop-Up Pantry at Mason provides food to students in need and aims to end food insecurity and hunger. University Life supports students here at Mason by providing numerous kinds of services, comprising 29 different offices to ensure student success.
“It took a little while, but friends who graduated from Mason and my family were the biggest champions for the program,” Myers said. “They shared the page on Facebook and donated their gowns to get the ball rolling. Word of mouth went a long way!”
Myers describes the students who are receiving the caps and gowns as appreciative. According to the News at Mason webpage, “Staffers from Mason’s University Life later told Myers some students had come to the Pop-Up Food Pantry, asking for caps and gowns.”
The program asked students who were feeling stressed about the prices of graduation regalia to fill out an application to receive a donated cap and gown.
“During the application process [on a Google form], I ask students to tell me how graduation will change their lives and community services they utilize,” Myers said. “Many students actively use our university’s Pop-Up Pantry, meal voucher program, financial aid or live in low-income housing. The students seem very grateful for getting to save some money and put it towards their living expenses.”
Bachelor’s regalia cost $59.98, not including tax, according to Gowns for Grads’ Facebook page. “Think of this as cost as two trips to the grocery store, a new interview outfit, or three tanks of gas! Some students simply can’t afford to walk across the stage,” the page reads.
Although this semester is the program’s first, Myers expects that it will continue as long as donations keep rolling in. She hopes that Mason will try to be more accommodating of low-income and first-generation students.
“My ultimate hope is that the university will rent or sell gowns to low-income and first-generation students at a very reduced cost so the program can cease, but as long as the donations continue and students need help getting regalia to walk across the stage, it will continue,” Myers said.
After being returned by the graduates, donated caps and gowns will continue to be passed on to future graduates.
“Should the program continue, we will have to assess the condition of the gowns each semester,” Myers said. “If they are not in great condition, then we will retire them and continue to collect new gowns. Out with the old gowns and in with the newly-donated gowns!”
Mason students, faculty and staff looking to assist with the program are welcome to purchase caps and gowns from the bookstore, then donate them, Myers explained.
Although it is too late to apply for a cap and gown for the upcoming spring graduation, the Gowns for Grads Facebook page is constantly being updated with new information (https://www.facebook.com/GMUcapandgown/).