When Laura Young received her diploma this past May she was 22 years old, but her commencement robe was nearing 60. Laura’s grandmother, Vera Cooper Rubin ’48, a renowned astronomer credited with proving the existence of dark matter, was the robe’s first owner.
Rubin got the robe at the beginning of the fall semester of her senior year, as was the tradition then. “We hung them on our doors and wore them all year long,” said Rubin. “We used them as bathrobes. Of course, we also wore them to academic functions—convocation, things like that.”
She continued to wear the robe to academic functions during graduate school (M.A., Cornell University; Ph.D., Georgetown University) and afterwards when she was on the faculty at Georgetown. Then the robe became something of a journeyman, serving not only Vera but also her husband Robert (a physicist/mathematician), the Rubins’ friends in academia who couldn’t afford robes of their own, and the Rubins’ children, who wore the robe at Halloween time as a witch’s cloak.
Having heard that Rubin’s granddaughter was graduating from Vassar, a friend called Vera to let her know that he still had the robe. Rubin brought it up to Laura when she was on campus to attend the lectures celebrating Vassar’s acquisition of the Einstein papers and the torch, or robe, was officially passed.