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Jenna Wilson poses with Carolina Closets sign.

Capping off the Gamecock experience

Senior leads collection drive for graduation caps, gowns

When Jenna Wilson (2023 education) became director of the Carolina Closet more than a year ago, she never imagined she’d be in the graduation business.

But she latched onto adjunct social work professor Megan Towbridge’s idea to collect commencement regalia for students unable to buy their own cap and gown. Together, they launched a joint collection project last year that continued at the spring 2023 commencement ceremonies with donation bins outside Colonial Life Arena.

Jenna shares her experience being a part of the Carolina Closet.

When did you start the graduation regalia collection event?

Last spring, we had graduation baskets at all three graduation ceremonies. We collected 56 gowns during that first push of trying to collect them, and we were really proud of what we collected.

One of the biggest things we prepare for as an institution is graduation, so to be able to help students walk across that stage with something became a passion project very quickly.

How has this project impacted the Carolina community?

I think it’s a really fulfilling experience when you see students get a gown and then really identify with graduation. Yeah, you can get a diploma in the mail, and that's really special for some people, but for others, the physical walking across the stage might even be more important than the piece of paper. I think being able to see students have something like this for free — it really gives me the chills.

If we're going to prepare students to get to that graduation stage, then let's help him walk across that stage as well. I also think it's even better when I hear people say they’re going to re-donate to give back to someone else gets to walk. I think that it’s great for the Carolina community to help continue Gamecocks helping Gamecocks forever.

What has been your favorite part about being involved in Carolina Closet and helping spearhead the graduation regalia donation project?

Being a part of the Carolina Closet has been something that I never expected. But I would say my proudest moment is being a part of the creation of the Gamecock community shop, which is the greater basic needs hub. We provide the students, not only with clothes, but food, school supplies, whatever that need looks like for them.

I am an education major, and in the College of Education, we talk about how as teachers, we teach that whole student. Being able to be a part of something that gives students what they need to be successful outside of the classroom is something that I'm proud of.

A graduation gown, as simple as it may seem, it really is like the ultimate symbol of being able to serve our students well.