Graduation gown donations sought for new lending program serving students in need

Three of the Graduation Gown Lending Project’s key people are, from left: Sara Alturk, Huong Tran and Yesenia Escobar.

Are your graduation cap and gown, worn proudly for a day and a zillion photos, now gathering dust in a closet?

The Graduation Gown Lending Project at UC Berkeley wants them. The new student-run service has launched a donation website in hopes of gathering enough caps and gowns — in Berkeley’s traditional black — to make sure that no student who lacks the $50 cost of graduation garb has to worry about marching to “Pomp and Circumstance” in street clothes.

Donations of money also are being accepted and will be used to buy new gowns to supplement the supply and to dry-clean donated gowns. The ceremonial clothing will be loaned to students free of charge.

Students who work in the Academic Peer Counseling office in the Educational Opportunity Program have been working on the project since fall semester. The EOP helps low-income and first-generation students successfully navigate the challenges of getting a Berkeley degree — including financial ones.

“We want to alleviate stress people can feel about having gowns,” says Sara Alturk, one of the students who is helping to get the service up and running. “Being low-income myself, I can understand the feeling of not being able to buy a gown.”

Graduation Gown Lending Project flyerThe idea originated with EOP academic peer counselor Samera Haidi a few semesters ago, Alturk relates. The student was getting ready to graduate, couldn’t afford the gown and was stunned to realize that no alternative to purchasing a gown existed at Berkeley.

“She realized there must be other people who need help, too,” says Alturk.

Things finally got rolling last semester. An intern in EOP’s academic peer counseling program, Alturk says that when she first got involved, “I was surprised we didn’t have program like this already.” She entered Berkeley through the Summer Bridge program for EOP students, and hopes to be hired as an academic peer counselor: “I’ve wanted to give back.”

Now she and peer counselors Yesenia Escobar and Huong Tran are helping make the gown project happen. Before Berkeley graduations start in May, the students hope to amass enough caps and gowns that no student in need is turned away. The program aims specifically to help students who fit the EOP profile: low-income or first-generation or historically underrepresented students. Students who borrow caps and gowns will be given a week to return them, and then they will be cleaned and circulated to other graduates.

More information and a link to the donation site are posted on the gown-lending project’s website.

Caps and gowns can be sent or dropped off at the Graduation Gown Lending Project, UC Berkeley Educational Opportunity Program, 119 Cesar Chavez Student Center, Berkeley, CA 94720-4210

Donations are being accepted through a website.