A group of peer academic counselors launched a new donation website this semester that will collect caps and gowns to donate to students who would usually be unable to afford graduation attire.
The counselors, affiliated with the UC Berkeley Education Opportunity Program, initiated the Graduation Gown Lending Project to enable EOP students — those who are lower-income, part of the first generation to attend college or are historically underrepresented — to borrow free caps and gowns. EOP is a campus program that provides academic counseling, support services and a campus referral network to help lower-income and first-generation college students develop their talents while at UC Berkeley.
“It is really important at such a competitive university that lower-income and undocumented students are able to graduate while wearing the cap and gown because they have worked so hard to get to this point,” said Yesenia Escobar, one of the peer counselors who is affiliated with the project.
The project accepts used caps and gowns as well as monetary donations used to dry clean donated attire and to purchase new gowns.
EOP peer academic counselors conceived of this project when Samera Hadi, an EOP senior who graduated two years ago, realized there was no rental service for graduation attire, which costs $50 at UC Berkeley.
“We were pretty shocked about (this), since (buying) these caps and gowns are pretty expensive for under-resourced students,” said Sikai Song, another peer academic counselor affiliated with the project.
The project’s leaders believe that as this program expands, more and more students from lower-income backgrounds will be able to rent graduation attire. Escobar said that the project has recently applied for a university grant and is currently exploring other funding options.
“In two years, I would love to triple or quadruple the number of caps and gowns we receive so that we can provide (graduation attire) to all EOP students,” Escobar said.
So far, the project has received only three gowns, but there are already some students who believe this program will benefit them when they graduate.
“There aren’t that many holistic resources for people from under-resourced backgrounds, and buying a graduation gown can be costly, so I’m glad this program is around,” said junior Sidronio Jacobo.
For many like Jacobo, walking across the stage in a cap and gown is an emotionally significant experience.
“It symbolizes what we have all worked so hard to accomplish, so to be able to rent one for free is great,” Jacobo said.
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.