Seniors are donating their graduation gowns as PPE
In this year's mostly virtual commencement ceremonies, thousands of American graduates are adorning their mortarboards with the slogan "Gowns 4 Good" after donating their gowns to healthcare workers fighting the coronavirus pandemic to use as personal protective equipment.
Gowns 4 Good is a charity started three weeks ago by Nathaniel Moore, a frontline physician assistant in Burlington, Vermont, who is asking graduates to donate their gowns to more than 74,000 front-line responders and others who have registered for the regalia on Gowns4Good.net.
Across the country, school graduations have been canceled to abide by social distancing rules, including Moore's own ceremony at the University of Vermont, where he was earning an MBA with a focus on sustainability.
"I've been struck by this image of my colleagues that are practicing elsewhere that lack that proper PPE," Moore, 30, told Reuters.
After researching Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for PPE in times of shortage, he launched the nonprofit with the slogan, "Wear the Cap, Donate the Gown."
Gowns worn backwards, with the zippered opening in the rear and the high collar in the front, fit the CDC requirements for covering "critical zones," including forearms, chests, stomach and waistline, Moore said.
"I'm a little bit nervous myself going into work every day and having the appropriate means to protect myself and thinking about them on the frontlines of having nothing, it's crazy to think about," he said. "To hear these personal stories of people on the frontlines that have nothing, that are begging for gowns, that are begging for any support that we can offer them and as fast as possible, and we're working just as hard as we can to make sure we can spread our story, get people to donate to help those that are reaching out."
In keeping with the tradition of graduates decorating their caps to express their individuality, those who donate their gowns are using the Gowns 4 Good logo to draw attention to the cause.
On Wednesday, Gowns4Good.net listed more than 74,000 gowns requested by medical facilities, more than 3,900 gowns donated by individuals and more than 1,500 gowns donated by institutional partners, including a regalia manufacturer.
Nearly 4 million people are expected to graduate from U.S. colleges in the 2019-2020 academic year, according to educationdata.org.
With much of the nation locked down, hundreds of schools have announced they will either cancel, postpone or stage virtual ceremonies.
Before the crisis hit the United States, Graduation Source in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of several cap and gown suppliers nationwide, received about 2 million orders for regalia for this spring's graduation season, a spokesman said.
But the cancellations of graduation ceremonies have been changing that number daily, he said, although he declined to release an updated number.
Even gowns that students wear for a virtual graduation in the living room or back yard can be donated as PPE.
"In terms of our graduates, my heart goes out to all of them this year because they're not getting that chance to celebrate," Moore said. "For us, there's no better way to recognize you by telling you the good that you're doing and the support you're making, and the impact that you're making by donating your gowns."
Among the most poignant donations were gowns sent by parents who included notes saying their sons and daughters died years ago, before they had a chance to graduate, and their regalia was just too precious to give away - until now.
"This is the best way that they see fit," he said. "They're honoring their sons and daughters lives by donating to this wonderful cause."