Removing a Barrier to Pomp and Circumstance
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Removing a Barrier to Pomp and Circumstance

Gowns for Grads program at George Mason provides regalia for needy graduates.

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Amanda Myers started a program to provide donated caps and gowns to George Mason graduates who cannot afford them.

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Contact Gowns4grad@gmail.com or visit: http://www.Facebo...">Facebook.com/GMUc....

When Muntaha Choudhary walks across the stage during George Mason University’s graduation ceremony this May she will celebrate not only her bachelor’s degree, which has been eight years in the making, but also the fact that she is the first person in her family to graduate from college.

Her financial circumstances could have put a damper on her graduation plans, however. She was not sure that she could afford the cost of purchasing a cap and gown, a requirement to participate in the graduation ceremony.

“Some people might say, ‘$67, that’s not a big deal,’ but it is in my family,” said Choudhary. "We’re always on edge when it comes to money. My dad is a four-time time heart attack survivor, and any money that my family saves goes to medical bills or something. That’s why it has taken me so long to graduate. I’ve had to pay my own tuition and help my family pay bills.”

Choudhary and many other George Mason University graduates in need will have one less barrier to their graduation ceremony thanks to a new program at the university called Gowns for Grads.

Through the program, recent Mason alumni donate caps and gowns to students who can't afford the $60-$120 price tag for graduation regalia. The program was founded by Amanda Myers, a Mason alumna and an academic adviser in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.

The idea for the program was sparked when Myers was counseling a student who was nearing graduation, and had tapped out all of her financial resources to buy textbooks to complete her last semester. In fact, says Myers, the student’s situation was so dire that she was on the brink of homelessness, and wasn’t planning to participate in the graduation ceremony because she didn’t have money to spend on the required clothing for graduation.

"I waited until the student left my office, and then I started crying,” said Myers. “It was heartbreaking that something like not being able to afford a cap and gown would stand in the way of her graduation. When students have worked so hard to graduate, they deserve to be cut a break.”

“It was heartbreaking that something like not being able to afford a cap and gown would stand in the way of her graduation. When students have worked so hard to graduate, they deserve to be cut a break.”

— Amanda Myers, Gowns for Grads

Since the program’s inception in February, Myers has been able to meet the cap and gown needs of nearly 150 students through the generosity of Mason alumni from Northern Virginia but as far away as North Carolina and New Jersey.

Jumana Kamal graduated last year with a master’s degree in Middle East and Islamic Studies. She chose to donate her graduation wear to the Gowns for Grads program.

“I very simply wanted to make it easier for at least one person who worked really hard to get to this one day,” said Kamal. “If you’re wondering about sentimental value, making someone else’s day is much more rewarding to me than holding on to something for a keepsake.”

After receiving her master’s degree in Emergency Management and Homeland Security in 2013, Regina Yun kept her cap and gown and looked for a way to donate it, but didn’t find one until she learned about Gowns for Grads. “I’m saving the environment by recycling and reusing and helping out a fellow student,” said Yun. “I had my cap and gown packed up and ready to go. I hope a few students can get a few uses out of it.”

Students who want to be considered for a cap and gown donation must complete an application and describe their financial constraints.

“Their stories are compelling,” said Myers. “One student wrote, ‘Eventually I became the first person in the family to earn a college degree; however, I have never been able to participate in any of the graduation ceremonies for the various levels of my academic journey due to financial constraints. I would humbly like to impress on your good offices to grant me the opportunity to rent a cap and gown to enable me to finally participate in my first ever graduation ceremony.’

"Another student stated, ‘I have had to pay for school out of my own pocket for years. Graduating will be the happiest day of my life, not only because I will no longer have to pay an arm and a leg, but also because I will be able to devote more time and money to helping my parents.’"

Myers designed the program to make it as easy as possible for alumni to donate. “All they have to do is send it to me and I can take care of the rest,” she said. “I de-wrinkle them and use a cleaning spray to get them ready to be worn.”

Mason alumni who are interested in donating and graduating students who would like to borrow a cap and gown are encouraged to send an email to Gowns4grad@gmail.com or visit: Facebook.com/GMUcapandgown.