It is indeed a milestone for every student graduating this year! It is also unfortunate that most if not all graduations have been canceled, postponed, or held virtually. However, celebrations should not stop. For me, I also graduated this year, getting a doctorate in educational leadership, and experienced our graduation virtually. It was a bit unusual at first but became a nice experience. All of us were meant to meet on campus to celebrate each other’s accomplishment, but the virtual session also brought us together. In this post, I will reflect on what we did and what you may consider doing for your own institutions in honoring your grads!
- Invitation notices: Send them out fast and early. Get a date/time and registration link ready to share with students so they can add it to their calendars.
- Slideshow approach: Each of us had to create a slide deck using Google slides to acknowledge and thank those who supported us along the way. Many people chose to list their family members, classmates, advisors, professors, teachers, and dissertation committee members in their slides. This slide deck might be best done by the school since it did feel like another “to-do” task for us.
- Backgrounds: You can encourage students to wear their graduation gowns during the event, but this should not be required. Other students creatively changed their Zoom backgrounds, too. Need some backgrounds or don’t know how to change your Zoom background? See here.
- Surprises: It’s always great to have some surprises to break up the routine. During our virtual ceremony, you could hear different types of music being played. Some of our dissertation chairs and professors promptly spoke about us and our work on Zoom, live. They congratulated us, and we were surprised by their cameo appearances. However, we were also very thankful that they took the time to celebrate with us on Zoom.
- Breakout sessions: Our ceremony did feel long at times, so I recommend keeping yours short. You may also consider “breakout” sessions for smaller groups, particularly if your graduating class has a cohort model. In this approach, the celebration can be a bit more personal for the students.
- Commencement speaker: We did not have a commencement speaker for our virtual ceremony, but I did notice that there have been many opportunities to highlight this year’s graduation with some amazing commencement speakers. I was particularly inspired by entertainer Nick Cannon, who shared on The View that he received his bachelor’s degree from Howard University this year and addressed the 2020 graduates in their graduation ceremony. Consider getting a commencement speaker who can inspire your graduates in this critical moment.
- Ending clips to share: Make sure the event is recorded and that each graduate can access their own segment. It can be tedious work to break up the video into pieces. You can also instruct graduates how to do this on their own via a movie-editing app.
- Looking for other suggestions? Allan Chochinov’s advice on Medium is also very thorough and helpful: “Don’t Cancel It: How to Hold a ‘Virtual Graduation Ceremony.’”
It is definitely a stressful time for all, but we should also recognize and celebrate our students who worked very hard to make it to graduation. Their perseverance is inspiring. Congratulations to the class of 2020!