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This Gown Has Been Around: Family Graduation Garment Reaches Century Mark at Drake's May 14 Commencement

May 8, 2006

CONTACT: Daniel P. Finney, (515) 271-2833,

When Drake University senior Phillip Longman graduates this week, he'll be wearing a garment that's been around nearly as long as Longman's soon-to-be alma mater.

Drake, which is celebrating its 125th year, will hold its undergraduate commencement ceremony at 10 a.m., Sunday, May 14, at the Drake Knapp Center, 2525 Forest Ave.

Longman will cross the stage wearing a family graduation gown that made its debut a century ago when his great grandmother, Leonta Starzinger Morrison graduated from Drake in 1906.

In the ensuing decades, the gown has made appearances at 17 college graduation ceremonies at Drake, the University of Iowa, Bradley University, the University of Michigan, Culver-Stockton College and the former Phillips University.

The garment has been on a member of the Morrison clan in every decade since the 1930s - its last appearance was on University of Iowa alumnus Jay Nelson in 1994.

The original wearer, Leonta Morrison, was just large enough that her gown fits everyone from the slight build of Paul Morrison, a 1939 Drake alumnus and long-time Bulldog athletics historian, to the strapping form of Phillip Longman, this year's graduate.

If all goes well and the garb holds up, the gown will cross the stage again in another four years. Abby Dierks, granddaughter of Paul Morrison and daughter of Holly Morrison Dierks, who wore the gown in 1976, enters Drake as a first-year student this fall and would graduate in 2010.