The COVID-19 pandemic has had an immeasurable impact on the traditions and celebrations we once loved. Accomplishments like high school or college graduations were forced online for longer than we originally expected. Although doing things digitally has helped save countless lives around the globe, it would be wrong to say that the adjustment has not had a negative impact on people's mental health.
COVID-19 impacted the lives of everyone in some way, but global education had possibly one of the hardest adjustments as both students and faculty were suddenly left to navigate the new normal while maintaining their grades. Many college students opted to take the 2020-2021 school year off, and others were left to navigate university life either digitally or under strict guidelines issued by local governments.
Things are slowly going back to the way they were before COVID-19 in many places, but slow vaccine rollouts in many countries and the rising threat of the Delta variant means that virtual education may last even longer. If your school is considering hosting its graduation ceremonies for the 2021-2022 school year virtually, consider implementing changes that will make your students feel unique and accomplished despite not participating in traditional celebrations.
Schools can do a lot to make zoom graduations more appealing or exciting for students. It's hard to feel a sense of accomplishment when graduation is online, both for students graduating and for teachers seeing their students finish their education. Graduation ceremonies are unique, and hosting alternative ceremonies virtually means that much of the magic is lost if schools don't go out of their way to make the event special in its way.
Making Zoom graduation a recruitment opportunity.
Putting in the initiative to make your students and faculty feel that sense of accomplishment during a virtual graduation ceremony will appeal to younger students and even prospective students that want to think that their school is doing its best to make sure students are celebrated for their hard work. These efforts send a clear message to students that they are appreciated and tell future students that your school cares about its students every step of the way throughout their educational career—even after they've finished their coursework.
Planning a virtual event takes less effort than planning an in-person event, but there is still work that needs to be done. Schools should begin planning any virtual event or graduation ceremony by ensuring that each person speaking—whether it be student speakers, guest speakers, or faculty speakers—is prepared with the proper technology and internet speeds that they may need to participate. Planning a virtual event is about making your guests and speakers feel comfortable participating without worrying about technical difficulties.
Here are 20 ways that you can make virtual graduations more appealing to faculty, students, and their families:
Send each graduate a Starbucks gift card.
Send a congratulatory message to your students by gifting them a cup of coffee to start their lives in the professional world. A Starbucks gift card is a great gift because there are locations worldwide, so your graduate can use it no matter where their next stop in life takes them.
Create a digital guest book for students to look back on.
You can create a digital guest book at websites like My Digital Guestbook, allowing friends and family members to send students a message digitally to congratulate them on their graduation.
Or, have families create a short video that will be sent to graduates on their graduation day.
One aspect of graduations that many miss in the Zoom era is that they bring families together to celebrate a significant accomplishment. In the months leading up to graduation, you can organize for each graduate's family to create a video message congratulating graduates. Release the videos to each student on graduation day to feel as if their families are there cheering them on, even if it's digital.
Invite friends and family to attend the virtual ceremony.
Regardless of whether or not it takes place in person, graduation is a significant life accomplishment. Invite the friends and family of your graduates to attend the digital ceremony.
Create a digital photo album.
Have each student submit several photos of their time at your school and compile them for a photo album that they can play on graduation day as they celebrate from home. This is an excellent way to bring students together and remind them that they completed this journey together.
Send cookies or balloons.
For smaller graduating classes, sending cookies or balloons to each student is a great way to message that you are celebrating their accomplishment alongside them. This touching gesture will stand out, and students will likely remember that their school was there for them during such an uncertain time.
Have graduates wear their cap and gown during the virtual ceremony.
This is a great way to maintain at least some semblance of the normal traditions that your students were looking forward to.
Hire a commencement speaker.
Hiring a commencement speaker will help give your students a sense of accomplishment and help your faculty feel that their students can be proud of this significant step they've taken in their adult lives.
Provide graduates with extra mental health support.
Adjusting to the real world is complicated, even in an average year. During this time, consider extending your support services after graduation to help students adjust. This will make them feel that they can count on their school to prepare them for the real world and tell younger students that they can trust your school to support them even after they graduate.
Provide graduates with extra career support or coaching opportunities.
Counseling is a great tool that many students miss when they finish school. Consider extending those services for at least a few months after graduation to help students make key decisions in their professional lives or get advice during their job search.
Get a celebrity to congratulate your students.
Sites like Cameo let you pay a celebrity to make a video wishing someone a happy birthday or congratulating them on graduation. This is often affordable, and your students will love the gesture that they can show to their family and friends in the future.
Offer an in-person event in the future.
If lockdown measures are easing or COVID-19 case counts are dropping in your area, consider offering a supplemental event a couple of months after your virtual graduation to make up for the fact that your students could not graduate in person.
Even after the COVID-19 pandemic, many students will want to have their graduation live-streamed so distant or elderly relatives can attend safely.
You can set these up by having your students schedule individual times to come in and film their walk across the stage. These ceremonies are an excellent way to make your students feel that you're putting in the effort to make their graduation memorable and will give them something to look back on.
Have a cap decorating contest.
Cap decorating is one aspect of graduation that students often look forward to, and this is one tradition that you can easily integrate into your virtual ceremony.
Let each student share a favorite memory or accomplishment they had at your school.
For smaller classes or programs, this is an excellent way for students to reinforce their positive experiences at your school and let them further connect with their peers and professors.
Deliver diplomas and degrees early.
The waiting period for diplomas and degrees is exciting, and making sure that students get these earlier than they usually would show that you care.
Send students a card in the mail.
Have your students' professors sign a card wishing them luck in their next adventures. This is a thoughtful touch that can make them feel appreciated as they finish their education.
Make cardboard cutouts for Zoom graduation.
Sports fans loved sending their photos in to be turned into cardboard cutouts for games, which is a great way to make Zoom graduation ceremonies a little bit more fun.