Nfld. & Labrador

Sisterhood of the travelling gown: Grad wears her great-grandmother's convocation robe

When Tiffany Small walked across the stage to collect her university degree this week, she was wearing a gown that's been there before. A few times, in fact.

Tiffany Small's gown had been on the graduation stage before. A few times, in fact

Tiffany Small holds her degree while wearing the same gown her great-grandmother wore in 1941. Small is part of the fourth generation of the family to wear the gown. (Submitted by Tiffany Small )

When Tiffany Small walked across the stage to accept her degree from Memorial University this week in St. John's, she took part in a family tradition that her great-grandmother started decades ago. 

For four generations now, members of Small's family have worn the same graduation gown at their convocation. 

"I think that she would be definitely proud," Small said about her great-grandmother, Gladys Mae Pike, who graduated from Memorial University College in June 1941.

Back then, Pike completed a one-year program with the teacher training department.

This is the tag on the back of Tiffany Small's graduation gown. It is around eight decades old. (Submitted by Tiffany Small )

Seventy-eight years later, Pike's great-granddaughter received a bachelor of science degree in marine biology, with honours. 

The road from then until now involved hardship that many families in Newfoundland and Labrador know all too well. 

Passed away at a young age

Pike died of tuberculosis at 33, leaving her oldest child, Small's grandfather, who was only 10 at the time, to help his dad raise five other siblings.  

"He kind of took the family under his wing and all the kids kind of grew up a little bit separately because the times were different," Small said. 

Gladys Mae Pike graduated from Memorial University College in June 1941. (Submitted by Tiffany Small)

Through it all, though, the family kept hold of the gown.

 "This gown has been kind of like the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," said Small, referring to the bestselling Ann Brashares novel and the subsequent film adaptation of a story about a group of friends who share a single pair of jeans. 

The difference is that the gown also tells a story that threads through the decades. 

Cut from the same cloth

It's a family tradition — one of Small's second cousins has also worn the gown — but there's also a deeper connection that Small feels with her great-grandmother. 

This is Tiffany Small's great grandmother's teaching certificate from 1941. (Submitted by Tiffany Small )

"The fact that she did take her education into her own hands — I kind of like to think that I'm carrying that one with me, too," she said. 

Small says now it's her turn to look at passing on the torch. 

"I'm very passionate about women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and how important it is to encourage young girls," she said. 

Small's educational journey isn't stopping with her degree. 

She is currently completing a master's degree in science (fisheries technology) at the Marine Institute in St. John's.

That means in the next couple of years, she will once again get to wear Gladys Mae Pike's gown. 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

About the Author

Adam Walsh

CBC News

Adam Walsh is a CBC journalist. He works primarily for the St. John's Morning Show, and contributes to television and digital programming.

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