Sammy Nickalls
June 03, 2015 8:19 am

It’s graduation season! After working for 12 long, hard years, millions of teen girls are graduating from high school and earning their diplomas. Unfortunately, though, not all girls all over the world have the privilege of a good education. Which is exactly what 18-year-old Erinne Paisley highlighted at her own grad ceremony by wearing a dress she made out her own homework.

That’s right: Erinne, from Victoria BC, Canada, created her own dress out of her old homework sheets. On her homemade creation, she wrote in big bold red letters: “I’ve received my education. Not every woman has that right. Malala.org.” Then, she wore the dress to Reynolds Secondary School grad ceremony. And she totally rocked it.

“I began to realize how much attention is often put on grad, and the culmination [and] celebration of completing your secondary education,” Erinne told HelloGiggles. “I really wanted to help and support all the amazing work the Malala Foundation does. . . a grad dress is largely meant to represent who you are as a person, and I have always had an immense passion for activism and giving back.”

Malala is, of course, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist for the education of girls and the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Her organization, The Malala Fund, “empowers girls through quality secondary education to achieve their potential and inspire positive change in their communities,” according to the organization’s website. Since Erinne made her dress herself, she donated the amount of money she would have spent on a prom dress to The Malala Fund.

“I feel a really deep connection to this cause and issue because I am a woman who has been born into a privileged life of having the opportunity, and right, to a free secondary education,” Erinne explained. When Erinne saw Malala speak live at We Day UK back in 2014, it inspired her “to an extent [I] can’t even describe.”

“Seeing [Malala] in person really made me realize that girls who don’t have the right to an education are so similar to myself or anyone else,” Erinne told us. “They have just been born into a circumstance that they in no way deserve.”

So Erinne’s brilliant idea was born, and she set out to create the dress. “At first, I created a few drafts of the dress out of old essays,” she explained of her process. “Once I got to creating the draft of the dress that I wore, I only had math homework left. The creation of the dress you see took my best friend and I one day of trial and error in my living room to create!”

The inside of the dress is held together mostly by scotch tape and duct tape, according to Erinne. There’s also black velvet around the waist, as well as black satin straps.

The reaction from her friends and family has been mostly positive, Erinne told us, “but I think still a bit of curiosity about if I would actually go through with it. Grad can be a very big deal. For people who didn’t expect me to be wearing the dress, which was most, I think the initial response was just shock and curiosity and then positive encouragement or comments that they would donate.”

As for online response to the dress, Erinne has been “extremely surprised. It has reached over 25,000 likes on a few different Facebook platforms since Saturday,” she said. “Since it blowing up online the in-person response has just become more and more supportive as well.”

When we asked Erinne about the women who inspired her most, she named her mother, as well as teachers and school faculty. “As well, I have to mention that at a very young age I had the privilege to meet the previous Canadian Governor General Michaelle Jean,” Erinne told us. “Meeting her before I had reached high school showed me that ‘bossy’ is a good thing. A woman in a powerful position is just as powerful and expected as a man. Anyone you admire is just as real as you, and this means you can make a difference just as they have, you just need to create contributions in the world from a place of compassion and authenticity.”

You go, Erinne! So what’s next for our powerful seamstress? She’ll be one of 11 in Canada to be a University of Toronto National Scholar in the fall. She hopes to study international law. “My ideal job would be to work for an organization like the United Nations to stand up for human rights globally,” she said. Yeah, we can definitely see that happening!

But just because the grad ceremony is over doesn’t mean The Dress is. If you want this dress for your own, you’re in luck: Erinne is selling it via an auction! Even better: all proceeds will go to the Malala Foundation.

Erinne, we are totally floored by your amazing efforts to change the world in such an ingenious and innovative way. Using one of the biggest teen milestones to make a difference makes our hearts swell!

[Images via Erinne Paisley]

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