Given the dramatic shift in how we gather, celebrate, and commemorate (coupled with rising expectations...), it’s hard to imagine going back to just purely in-person events, especially your school’s 2022 graduation.
Last year, most spring school events were held entirely online. This spring as gathering restrictions loosen, there will be both virtual and hybrid celebrations (each with its own challenges) as we head into graduation season.
Zoom fatigue (it's a real thing) will be a huge consideration, as well as involving your community and your graduates in the planning process and celebration. The goal for your 2022 graduation should be to make a meaningful and memorable event while ensuring all audiences are connected and engaged.
Steps for planning and executing a 2022 graduation experience that truly honors seniors:
Step 1: Decide on the Type of Graduation: Virtual or Hybrid
Step 2: Determine What Traditions You’ll Keep
Step 3: Promote the Event with a Virtual Graduation Microsite
Step 4: Start the Celebration Now
Step 1. Decide on the Type of Graduation: Virtual or Hybrid
Did you notice that we didn’t include “in-person” as an option? It’s not because we don’t think you’re going to have the opportunity to be in-person — most schools likely will have that opportunity. But, in-person can’t be the only option. Most schools will opt for a hybrid graduation ceremony.
What is a Hybrid Graduation?
A hybrid graduation incorporates components of a virtual graduation with portions of an in-person experience. Keeping social distancing and health protocols in mind, a hybrid graduation offers the best of both worlds; a chance to connect, but also an opportunity to expand your reach and celebrate with an additional online presence.
A recent report released by Splash, an event marketing tech company, reinforced the idea that hybrid and virtual events are here to stay. While 79% of those surveyed now expect to host events that include an online component even as in-person events resume, the report also says less than 7% of event attendees believe virtual events should be longer than an hour.
One of the greatest advantages of a virtual or hybrid graduation event is the ability to bring in additional speakers or invite attendees who may not have been able to travel or attend in-person. Expanding your reach to recruit noteworthy alumni, parents, and other community leaders to complete an epic speaker line-up will make students feel inspired about their next chapter.
When choosing your event — whether totally virtual or hybrid — you’ll want to consider the costs and feasibility around graduation ceremony content and technology. Let’s take a close look at the primary options, including live streaming, pre-recorded content, and crowdsourced content.
Live Streamed Ceremony
Live streaming is a great option for virtual and hybrid events. With live streaming, you avoid the capacity limitations of in-person events and invite all your constituents to celebrate your graduates through live streaming. Plus, you avoid spoilers!
Tech Tips for Success:
- Partner with a reliable livestream vendor. Live streaming connects your extended community and offers the ease of watching events unfold on-the-go, or at home.
- Is a strong and reliable internet connection available?
- Do you have the technology to help produce the event? (microphones, speakers, projectors, LCD panels, computers, etc.)
- Do you have a team of people to help?
Know Your Audience:
- Keep it on the shorter side. Many people will be multi-tasking as they view your event (cooking, cleaning, exercising, etc.)
- Consider if people will be viewing the event on different screen sizes. Present the material in a way that’s easy for everyone to view.
- How will you handle interpreters and subtitles if languages other than English are spoken in your school?
Despite a disruption to their spring schedule, the graduating class at Minnetonka High School was able to hold an in-person summer event. In keeping with Minnesota state guidelines, the school held a series of eight, 45-minute mini-ceremonies throughout the day. School district staff then worked to compile footage from the commencement events for a virtual graduation ceremony that was shared on social media. While there are plans to have an in-person ceremony this spring, the school is broadening its viewership and inviting its community to watch the graduation ceremony live online, too.
Who says every graduation ceremony needs to be streamed live in real-time? Schools and districts can follow social distancing practices and still allow students to walk across the stage in their cap and gown without the pressure of “being live.” How exactly?
Your ceremony can be pre-recorded in advance using the following steps:
1. Hire a video company, use your in-house videographer, or get a volunteer within the community with video experience to film the ceremony in advance.
2. Set up time slots for seniors to come to the school and be filmed walking across the stage, following social distancing best practices.
3. Interview all students about their favorite memory about the school, or their senior year.
4. Compile the video clips into a video to be posted online at a set date and time, or broadcast on the big screen at a safe facility — such as fairgrounds or a drive-in theatre.
Germantown Friends School in Philadelphia had a nice mix of pre-recorded and live programming for their graduation. The pre-recorded portions featured some fun celebrations with singing and dancing, while the live speeches and the awarding of diplomas showcased the more poignant moments during a live-streamed graduation ceremony for the day. Afterward, all the content was hosted on their graduation landing page.
Save Time by Using Community-Produced Content
Crowdsource content from your seniors to highlight all the good memories from their senior year, and compile the videos and photos into a single 3-5 minute video to show at the beginning of the graduation. In addition to crowdsourcing content from your community, you can also ask parents to send in well-wishes.
Need inspiration? This completely crowdsourced video diary from Blair Academy’s Instagram compiles 1-second video clips from their academic year—talk about a trip down memory lane!
The good news — whether you choose virtual, hybrid, or in-person, you can incorporate elements of live streaming, pre-recorded content and community-sourced content to make your event original and engaging!
Step 2: Determine What Traditions You’ll Keep
Since the pandemic, we've seen some pretty creative celebrations, many of which students and families loved. This spring, embrace those new traditions and celebrations and incorporate them again this year.
Graduation Cap Decorating Contest
Take note of Southern New Hampshire University, which has famously delivered degrees to graduates across the country for years now. While the university’s degrees are delivered to groups of about 20 graduates, it’s an inspiring idea for day schools and districts where all graduates are local. While this feat might be easiest for smaller graduating classes, we can’t help but feel inspired by the personal approach.
Deliver the diplomas prior to the ceremony, yearbooks if they are ready, along with a graduation cap for students to decorate and wear during the virtual ceremony. We know it’s not the same, but the extra effort will be duly noted — it certainly was for Briarwood Christian School.
Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, AL surprised 143 seniors with hand-delivered party packs that included yearbooks, caps and gowns, cookies, alumni event passes, and a Briarwood beach towel for their summer days ahead. Check out more of their creative videos here.
Incorporate Senior Traditions
Host a Graduation Parade
For nearly 230 years, Derby Academy in Hingham, MA made their annual procession to a church downtown as part of their graduation exercises. Last spring, they reimagined their traditional walk with a car parade complete with signs, streamers, and balloons while families and friends cheered from the sidewalk. Consider how you can honor graduates with a celebratory parade that goes the extra mile.
Create Senior Care Packages
Finding a way to give back to the community while also lifting the spirits of seniors is a win-win. Partner with a local bakery to create “senior care packages” to be sent to graduates on graduation day. We’re seeing small businesses across the country partner with both schools and first-responders to offer this service.
Step 3: Promote the Event with a Virtual Graduation Microsite
If your team simply sends an email with a Zoom invite for a virtual graduation, engagement will be flat. What better way to create excitement and engagement with a dedicated graduation page on your site? This can extend the life of your celebration, and provide a go-to hub for community members (near and far) who want to partake in the celebrations.
First, give the virtual graduation ceremony its own area on your website—a communications hub and one-stop-shop for all-things graduation. Whether it’s a built-out microsite or graduation landing page, add it to your main navigation or create a call-to-action for it. You want to show your prospective and current families that you’re delivering a high-quality experience for graduates that everyone can be excited about.
Here’s what your microsite or landing page should include:
Featured Graduation Speakers
Promote your ceremony speaker line-up. Aside from walking across the stage and receiving a diploma, speeches by guest speakers, faculty and students are the second most anticipated part of the day.
Most importantly, proceed as usual with selecting student speakers, and highlight them with the same respect as you would guest speakers.
Because hybrid events open up new opportunities to bring in guest speakers from across the country (or world), bringing unexpected voices can be a big draw for your community. Time to tap those famous alumni!
Leysin American School in Switzerland showcased its graduation speakers, which included their valedictorians, members of the school administration, and parents of alumni. By including biographies, photos, and some context about their speeches, it helps build excitement and set the scene for what’s to come.
Class of 2022 Graduate Photos and Bios
Give seniors the recognition they deserve! At this point, many seniors have already had their senior photos taken (and shared with the yearbook committee), so ask them to submit them along with a bio, and fun facts. Think of it as a living, breathing yearbook!
If you use Finalsite, you can use Posts or Constituent Manager to easily share graduate photos and bios. If you opt to use Posts, you’ll be able to add some additional filters, such as student-athlete, National Honors Society, membership in other clubs, awards, etc. Another cool feature for using Posts — enabling comments! Then, parents, friends, and family members can leave (moderated) comments to one another.
Academy of the Sacred Heart featured their grads and a chance to learn a little bit about where they’re from, where they’re headed, and some of their favorite memories. It’s a great way to capture the personalities of the class and give each student their well-deserved moment in the spotlight.
Create a Place for Parents and Friends to Share Well-Wishes
One way to create a sense of community, even when far apart, is to provide more open avenues of communication. We’re seeing many schools use tools like Kudoboard, or Padlet, which allows website visitors to write notes to one another on a public board.
The content can easily be embedded on any website and provides parents, family near and far, and friends to all write heart-warming public messages of encouragement to one another.
Washingtonville Central School District took that approach and welcomed messages from their extended community. The outpouring of love and overwhelming support for the graduates bring all the feels!
Share Livestream Details
Give your community an easy way to register and save the date. (This means avoiding a very long form for them to complete!) By submitting their name and email, you can add them to a list to receive automated emails with event updates, login information, and more.
Social Media Integration
If you already have a hashtag for your senior class, encourage seniors to use it on their social media channels to automatically aggregate content for your webpage. If you don’t already have a hashtag, create something new so your community can share their experiences with one another via social media.
Gilroy Unified School District in Gilroy, CA shared moments from their schools’ graduations using branded hashtags. By following #GilroyGrown, their community helped capture the spirit of their cap and gown decorating, car parades, and virtual celebrations.
Loomis Chaffee cross-posted their senior celebrations and encouraged their community to show their #PelicanPride. They also hosted a ton of fun content on their graduation landing page for their students and families to download and share, including branded Zoom backgrounds, wallpapers, phone backgrounds, and more.
Make the Announcement
Messaging is everything. So, when you announce your school’s plans for your graduation ceremonies, it’s important that you focus on the celebration of an extraordinary accomplishment, rather than “what could have been.”
For making the announcement, we recommend creating a video, instead of just sending a plain text email. Once the video has been sent via email to your community, post it on your website. You can use a PagePop on your homepage and in community portals to ensure it's seen by your constituent groups. And for social media, make a slightly different version of the video that invites everyone to view and join in on the celebrations.
Step 4: Start the Celebration Now
Honor Seniors on Social Media
We hope you had plans in place to do this anyway, but use the time now to honor your seniors (daily!) on social media. It's a great way to build community during a time of isolation and provides a sense of "normalcy" — which is what everyone is craving right now.
For example, Grace Christian Academy in Knoxville, TN features a senior ”Takeover Tuesday” of their Instagram stories, sharing some "get to know the senior" information and a little behind-the-scenes peek of their daily schedules. It's a great way to celebrate their time at the school — and it's going to get a ton of organic engagement.
Rotterdam International Secondary School in the Netherlands started some buzz and excitement ahead of graduation and even continued a tradition started last year— creating a "Hall of Fame" for their seniors on their Instagram, complete with seniors’ quotes, favorite memories, what they’ll miss, and what’s next.
International Christian School of Budaptest is celebrating members of its graduating class with a Senior Spotlight on Instagram. Fun facts about their time at school and where they're headed next give the graduates some well-deserved recognition!
Virtual and hybrid events are here to stay, and the sooner you incorporate the ideas of creating memorable and meaningful graduations, the better.
As your school implements this year’s graduation plan, we encourage you to think about how these changes are not just for the class of 2022, but for future generations of students. Everything you do now will impact the success of your school in the future and that includes how you handled graduation ceremonies.
With a little pomp and circumstance, students and their families will celebrate each other, say their goodbyes, and look to the future with hope and resilience.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Connor has spent the last decade within the field of marketing and communications, working with independent schools and colleges throughout New England. As Finalsite’s Web and Marketing Manager, Connor plans and executes marketing strategies and digital content across the web. A former photojournalist, he has a passion for digital media, story-telling, coffee, and creating content that connects.