Talk about hand-me-downs. The Brooks family takes theirs seriously. When psychology major Daniel Brooks Jr. walks into Mason’s 43rd annual Commencement in the Patriot Center on Saturday, he will be sporting a 100-year-old graduation gown and following a sacred family tradition.
The simple black wool gown was originally purchased by his great-grandmother Bertha T. Cottrell for her own graduation from Wellesley College in 1910. The gown was passed down to her children to save money during the Depression. Since then, it has become a family heirloom, adorning four generations of the family on 21 different graduates at 22 colleges and universities throughout the country.
When Brooks wears the gown, it will be the 30th time it has been worn at a graduation ceremony. Brooks’s father Dan Sr. wore it at his own graduations from Princeton in 1963 and Stanford in 1968. The Springfield, Virginia, resident is excited to be taking his turn with the garment, but he has some concerns. Mason switched from black gowns to green ones several years ago, so Brooks is still working out how this tradition might play out.
Each graduate’s name, college, and the date are marked inside the gown on strips of white sewing tape, and it is something to behold. The gown has in many ways become a historical document itself. And it is more popular than ever.
Brooks’s aunt, Lynda Brooks Crowley, was quoted in an Associated Press story when her daughter Amanda wore it at her graduation from Dickinson College in 2006 as saying the gown has been the most popular with this generation. “It wasn’t until this generation that it became an honor. The kids fight over it now,” said Crowley, who wore it to her own graduation from Connecticut College in 1971.
“Mason has done a lot for me, and I’m thrilled that the 100th anniversary of the gown will take place here,” says Brooks as he prepares to finish his bachelor’s degree. While at Mason, Brooks met his fiancée, Alix Multop, BA Anthropology ’07. He also played a role is starting Mason’s successful roller hockey team. Brooks and fellow founders took the team to the 2010 Collegiate Roller Hockey Championships in San Jose, California, this spring.
Brooks hopes to one day add another listing to the gown with a master’s degree, but for now he is happy to take part in a proud family tradition.