7 Tips for Planning a Virtual Graduation
The class of 2020 had to get creative with commencement ceremonies in the midst of a pandemic. Instead of gathering with classmates and family members in person, many graduates turned their tassels in virtual graduations over Zoom.
At The Archer School for Girls, an independent girls school in Los Angeles serving students from grades 6-12, administrators created a meaningful Zoom celebration for more than 1,000 attendees that included video vignettes, musical entertainment, and special moments for each graduate to shine.
If your school is planning on going virtual (or hybrid) for this year’s commencement ceremony, Archer directors share how to plan a virtual graduation or school event that rises to the occasion. For more tips and best practices, check out our on-demand webinar with Archer and production company JupiterReturn.
1. Make it personal
You know your educational community best, so create personalized content that will resonate with them. Archer shared pre-recorded videos of each graduate during the ceremony, capturing the moments of her getting ready in a white gown and flower crown, holding her diploma, and reflecting on her time at Archer.
“When these videos were spotlighted during the actual Zoom event, every graduate was seen and featured. Many attendees remarked how much better they were able to get to know the graduates than they would have otherwise during the traditional stage walk,” said Quyen Ngo, director of advancement and communications at Archer.
2. Embrace the change
Ngo advised against trying to duplicate the in-person experience online. Instead, look at how you can create a wholly unique experience that embraces connection over live video.
“When we look at translating an event to a virtual space, there’s a perception that you’ll lose something in the process, but that’s not necessarily true,” Ngo said. “We try to figure out how our attendees can get everything they need out of it, and in some cases, more than they could in person.”
3. Leverage Zoom for a more immersive experience
With the ability to transition seamlessly between speaker view, gallery view, spotlighting, and screen sharing, with attendees following the host’s view, you can create an experience that feels almost cinematic. “We were able to use these features to weave in the themes and highlights of the event and ensure they were the focus of everyone’s attention,” Ngo explained.
In lieu of a procession, Archer’s production team transitioned to a gallery view so all graduates had the opportunity to be seen at the same time and wave to their loved ones. As the ceremony went on, the team used the spotlight feature to highlight speakers and honorees, interspersed with pre-recorded videos of each graduate, giving the event a more polished flow.
4. Let your audience connect, virtually
At first, Archer disabled interactive features during large events. Over time, they opened up chat and Q&A to let parents, students, and other members of the community interact and share their feelings spontaneously.
“You can’t hear audience applause on a webinar. Chat is one way the audience can show how they’re feeling and connect,” Ngo said.
5. Collaborate on production & technical details
Working with a production company or internal team opens up opportunities for more production value in events and allows administrators to leverage the technical expertise of others. Archer enlisted JupiterReturn, a full-service digital agency with decades of experience in live production, to produce its graduation ceremony and other events throughout the year, like a fundraising gala with a live DJ and dance party.
“We partnered with them to make sure our events would be as seamless as possible, not just technically, but visually,” Ngo said. “It helped give our community members a true experience versus logging into another meeting.”
“Leveraging our background in producing second-screen experiences, network television specials, and digital events around the world, we applied that knowledge and standard of quality to virtual events, elevating them beyond meetings to events,” said Victor Borachuk, founder of JupiterReturn.
6. Get the word out
Use different communications channels to increase attendance and promote engagement. “We would send a promotional email, then follow up with posts on social media saying, ‘Here’s a preview of tonight.‘ We’d also send post-event messages and share photos. It’s like a giant digital hug to the community,” Ngo said. As a result, the school’s virtual events had even higher levels of engagement than past in-person events.
7. Build confidence before the big day
“There’s so much to learn about Zoom,” said Xiaorong Li, director of educational technology at Archer. “We decided to use webinars for our parent events at the beginning and they were so seamless that it delivered a sense of calmness, which was important when it came to hosting larger events.”
“Leading up to graduation, we had our run-of-show and did a lot of run-throughs to make sure that every single detail was taken care of. Anyone who was presenting or speaking was in the run-through,” Ngo added. “Over time, that gave us confidence — we can do this. We’re ready.”