Art and design freshman Katie Tam is selling custom graduation caps for high school seniors and donating a portion of the proceeds to a San Francisco social justice movement in support of the COVID-19 emergency response fund.

Each cap takes about two to three hours to complete. Tam said that decorating such a large quantity of caps in a short period of time can be overwhelming, but it is a labor of love.

“I feel honored and special that seniors trust me with their cap for their special day,” Tam said.

Last year, Tam designed about 40 graduation caps for seniors in Castro Valley, California. Kylie Rojas, a member of the Cal Poly women’s soccer team and a business freshman, purchased a personalized cap from Tam when she graduated from Castro Valley High School. 

“The cap highlights the end of the chapter and the beginning of a new one,” Rojas said.

All of Tam’s caps begin with a consultation where she works with each client to outline a color scheme, college mascot or personal quote for the design. Next, Tam works with the senior client to determine what materials to use. Tam’s standard cap is created with acrylic paint, with fake flowers, rhinestones and ribbons offered as add ons.    

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Audrey Vance, an interdisciplinary studies freshman, worked with Tam to create a design. Vance said Tam sent her many sketches before starting the cap’s design. Vance’s finished cap reads, “I’m SLO excited, Cal Poly 2023” with sunflowers surrounding the cap.

Tam said she considered offering services to Cal Poly seniors, but after moving home in response to the coronavirus pandemic, she opted to continue designing caps for high school seniors. 

In the past two weeks, Tam has created 20 graduation caps. She has donated $5 per cap sold to GLIDE, a social justice movement serving marginalized individuals in San Francisco.  

Located within the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, GLIDE predominantly serves members of the local homeless population. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, GLIDE has continued to offer services such as daily free meals, COVID-19 screenings and referrals, basic necessity kits for parents with young children, hygiene kits and spiritual support.

Tam volunteered with GLIDE as a Castro Valley High School student and said she was impressed with the staff’s dedication to serving marginalized individuals. Tam said that since San Francisco has a large, dense homeless population, she wanted to help this community.  

“It was really important to me to support locally because I have seen GLIDE’s work personally,” Tam said.

This year, Tam is taking orders through a Google Form and is receiving payment through Venmo. Tam is accepting orders for graduation caps through May 23. Her standard price per cap is $25 until May 16, with a rush increase to $35 between May 17 to 23. 

High school seniors pick up their cap from Tam’s house, as she leaves the cap on her front porch due to social distancing guidelines.

Rojas said seeing classmates in personalized caps was a special moment for the class of 2019.

“I think that having those caps at graduation let everyone’s personality shine and gave everyone something they were proud of,” Rojas said.

While high school and college seniors alike may have a different graduation experience, Vance said personalized caps offer students a memento of their journey.

“There is relief and pride that goes along with getting into a school like Cal Poly,” Vance said.  “For the class of 2020, the cap represents the next step forward.”

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