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February 9, 2021

Host your Own Virtual Graduation

Covid-19 was the last thing many planned for as they prepared their calendar for the spring and summer, especially for the graduating class of 2020. While no one could have expected the impact of such a momentous occasion, some schools have risen to the challenge of celebrating their students in other ways, like virtual graduations. This past June, we were fortunate enough to assist Bladen Community College with its 2020 Graduation Ceremony, totally virtual.

You can learn more about our approach to the BCC virtual graduation ceremony here. We wanted to share some insights on the experience and how schools, colleges, and universities can utilize this in the future.

Plan Backwards

The first step is to set a date and plan backward. It seems counterintuitive but setting a date makes it real and gives you a date to work off of with your scheduling. You can also build strategic marketing strategies to fuel engagement and excitement about the event. This also helps keep the focus on graduates rather than on a convenient schedule. Ensure to incorporate in-person aspects of ceremonies into scripts or even pre-ceremony gifts. Bladen was way ahead with this idea, providing “swag bags” to students complete with decals (designed by us) and a book by the keynote speaker, Chad Porter, to enjoy before the ceremony.

Build a Virtual Graduation Strategy

Second, ensure you have a clear understanding of whether it will be a live, pre-taped, or mixed event. I encourage you to work with an experienced team (whether internally or externally) to ensure there’s a clear understanding of the difference in the experience. If you’re already holding an in-person event, the answer may be to set up a standard live stream and host it that way. However, understand both the benefits and complications that may arise from this. That includes last-minute changes to graduation status, student name changes, and technology issues. Make sure you have everything accounted for so no one is surprised when the day comes.

Focus on the Moment

Third, focus on the moment, not the fan-fare. Remind yourself why this is happening and why it’s important. It may seem silly but it’s easy to forget that even a pre-taped event should still feel normal. With Virtual Graduations, you want to provide a similar experience with care and intention rather than just “look what we can do with technology.” Understand your students will zone out or may just want to hear their name called, but providing them a cohesive experience that still mirrors a true graduation will mean more to them in the long run.


Lastly, enjoy the experience with the graduates. Especially when the event is pre-taped, it can feel stale or non-special. Understand that mixed feelings are natural and normal. There will almost always be a Debbie-downer in the comments section. Ensure that someone is on hand to pull the conversation back to a positive. Like your students, this is an accomplishment. Be proud of the work and be willing to give yourself a pat on the back as the tassels turn.