GMU Law Students Protest Graduation Gowns

George Mason University law students are petitioning against the requirement to pay $136 to rent cap and gown regalia in order to attend their graduation ceremony.

George Mason University law students are petitioning against the requirement to pay $136 to rent cap and gown regalia in order to attend their graduation ceremony.

Ellie Mystal for Above the Law (“Law Students So Broke They Can’t Afford to Look Decent at Graduation?“) reports that the administration is standing firm:

A student asked us to review our policy that graduates must wear a cap and gown in order to participate in the Law School Convocation ceremony. Because of the increasing costs of the regalia, over which we have no control, we thoughtfully considered if this year might be the right year to consider allowing students to opt out of wearing the regalia. This was not a matter considered without significant input regarding all relevant factors. In the end, one critical factor has guided our decision.

Over 100 soon-to-be graduates have already placed orders for caps and gowns, and those orders have been placed for production with the manufacturer. That means that if we changed the policy now to permit an opt out from cap and gowns to a student choice of courtroom attire, those students who have diligently placed orders would not be permitted a refund. Essentially, the opt out would not be an option for most students.

Apparently, they haven’t been over to the econ department and been introduced to the concept of sunk costs. At any rate, a petition is going around:

We believe that students should not be required to pay $136 and rent graduation attire in order to walk with their classmates. In an historically awful economic climate, some with six figures in debt, and weak career prospects, we have already suffered enough of a financial blow. A $136 entrance fee to graduation that serves mere aesthetic purposes seems unreasonably out of touch with this reality. Students who have earned the right to graduate should get to choose whether to rent graduation regalia.

[Whining about the state of the economy]

Some students have expressed a desire for uniformity in the class picture. We believe this concern merits discussion. But we also believe that since students bear this expense, a decision should be made by the students, not the administration.

For the foregoing reasons, the undersigned request that the Administration remove its requirement of renting regalia in order to walk in the graduation ceremony, or in the alternative, to allow the students who bear this expense to vote on the matter. After all, it is our graduation.

I must admit that the practice of wearing a centuries-old costume to mark the occasion is rather silly. At least in the case of doctoral students, they’re likely to need to wear the regalia again periodically; that’s not typically true of other graduates.

But I tend to agree with Mystal that students who’ve spent enormous sums for three years of law school who don’t have jobs lined up this close to graduation have complaints more serious than the high cost of gown rental.

via Glenn Reynolds

FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    I worked for awhile at the College of Charleston. Their tradition was to have the women wear white dresses and the men to wear white tuxedoes or suits. Considering the culture of Charleston, both the dresses and whtie suits were usually worn again.

    That color scheme could probably only work there. I don’t see a lot of men wearing white suits now that I’m in Indiana.

  2. epistorese says:

    The students who don’t want to or can’t afford to rent gowns (and I think $136 is high) could do what I did and not walk. The degree is equally good whether you take it from the hand of the president or they mail it to you.

  3. Neil Hudelson says:


    Its advice I wish I had taken. I walked across that stage, proudly took that degree from the President, opened it when I got back to my seat, and read the following:

    “You owe $1.32 in printing charges. Upon receipt of payment, we will mail you your degree at the home address on file.”

    1.5 years later they finally sent it to me.

  4. Wow $ 136. I will say rental prices have certainly increased since I graduated from GMUSL 18 years ago. And, yea, I paid it and went to the ceremony — I’m certain my parents would have killed me if I didn’t — but several of my classmates didn’t.

  5. DRF says:

    The compromise solution is to dispense with the cap-and-gown requirement, but charge every graduating student (other than those who have already paid non-refundable amounts for the costumes) a lesser fee, to be used to partially reimburse those earlier payers. This way, the cost incurred by early payers will be shared by the entire class and everyone ends up in the same position.

  6. Franklin says:

    I have no real problem with a little tradition here and there, and this requirement doesn’t really seem like the biggest deal in the world. BUT, it seems to me that good old-fashioned competitive capitalism isn’t working for some reason. $136 to rent???? I *bought* my cap-and-gown for much less than that, although that was 15 years ago. I just looked in my closet; I just don’t see how it could possibly cost that much, even new. They could make this crap in China for $5.