Letters: Caps and gowns should be free to students

Guest Author

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When I got a cheery email reminding me to buy my cap and gown before graduation, I was pissed. “What kind of goodbye gesture is this?” I complained to anyone who would listen. “How do my tuition dollars not cover that?”

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Honestly, the $50 wasn’t a real problem for my family. But journalism Instructor Jamie Folsom said she knows people who haven’t gone to graduation at all because of the cost, celebrating with big family gatherings instead. And, for first generation students, walking at graduation can be a highly important moment for them and their families.

Who gets access to celebrations and milestones? Maybe having students pay for their caps and gowns isn’t meant to be elitist, but it kind of works out that way — cutting out specific people who can’t justify spending money on a one-time rental.

Some students may not want to participate in the University’s ceremony anyway, but if graduation is, at the core, about the students and their accomplishments, shouldn’t we make sure that attending is an option for everyone?

My first thought was that the University should pay for caps and gowns, either through our tuition dollars or their own budget. According to Marissa Dienstag, associate director of Presidential and University Events, about 70-80% of graduating students usually walk, and if the University paid $50 for regalia for each of these 4,800 students, that would cost roughly $235,200 per semester.

Dienstag said the University’s graduation budget wouldn’t be able to cover this extra cost, especially since having to add heightened security in the past year. I didn’t get a clear answer on whether tuition dollars could cover the cost without being increased.

Vice Provost Kelly Long added that for the University to pay for students’ regalia, they would have to retrieve caps and gowns from students after the fact, which could be problematic. But, maybe getting your real diploma could depend on returning your regalia, or, if a student really wanted to keep theirs after the fact, they could buy it off the University.

Who gets access to celebrations and milestones? Maybe having students pay for their caps and gowns isn’t meant to be elitist, but it kind of works out that way — cutting out specific people who can’t justify spending money on a one time rental.

But, if the budget just isn’t big enough, my next idea was to create some kind of fee waiver, so that regalia could at least be free for a few students — maybe this would be a good place for ACSCU to spend the close to $1 million in student fees that was recently found unused.

My last idea was to do away with caps and gowns altogether.

Long said that the reason we still do regalia is that it’s a traditional way of marking that moment of transition and change. Similar to school uniforms, she said, there’s something that is equitable about everyone being in the same apparel, and this uniformity also makes it less of an individual honor and more of a collective, community honor for the class and the school.

However, Folsom said she thinks the old-school academia look is starting to be antiquated, and if that tradition has lost its meaning for students, maybe we should start to question those requirements. In the meantime, though, regalia is still on and still costs $50.

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Maybe students who are currently struggling can borrow caps and gowns from friends graduating at different times, or start GoFundMe campaigns, or look into CSU’s Fostering Success Program, which helps out students who are independent or grown out of foster care.

If we want lasting change, though, the question comes down to this: whose responsibility it is to make sure that every student has the option to walk at commencement — the students’ or the school’s?

Until we decide that, we as students might start getting curious about why things are the way they are, then asking the people who could actually tell us. Both Long and Katz said something wild to me — that they had never before been asked to consider the questions I was presenting to them.

With all the bitterness about buying caps and gowns, not one complaint reached them? Maybe we owe it to ourselves to complain in the right places, because the school will care more if we let them know that we care.

Carolina Araiza — Journalism and Media Communications

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