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How Universities Turned Virtual Commencement Ceremonies Into an Interactive Experience

A Microsite, a YouTube Live-Stream and a Social Wall Is All You Need

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An open laptop showing a social media wall. Next to the laptop, a mortarboard graduation cap is placed next to a rolled up piece of paper with a yellow bow around it.

Graduating from university is often hailed as a new beginning, the start of the rest of your life. Unfortunately, for those graduating in 2020, things have been slightly more complicated.

It’s not easy to enthusiastically “start the rest of your life” when the world is a dumpster fire, people are dying, and you’re hanging out at home with your parents waiting until lockdown ends. It certainly doesn’t help if the demarcation, the formal transition from college life to adulthood, is missing. But for 2020 graduates, the long-anticipated graduation ceremony with all its pomp and circumstance simply won’t be happening.

A student with long hair, dressed in cap and gown and wearing a blue protective cloth face mask, is standing in the street holding up a sign that reads “CLASS OF 2020”.

Fortunately, colleges and universities are doing their very best to make this time count for their graduating students, using readily available online tools to put on lavish remote commencements.

It’s not only colleges that are pitching in these days to make graduating students feel special. Even Arnie is pitching in:

But we’d like to show you some of the amazing things educational institutions have been doing for their graduates, using tools like YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Walls.io.

Start with a microsite and a social wall

We’ve looked at a lot of EDU customers’ social walls in the past months, and pretty much all of them have set up a microsite for their graduating students and paired it with a social wall.

The combination of microsite and social wall seems to be the bare minimum for educational institutions. Almost all of them also set up a live-streamed ceremony and have later embedded the recording on the website. But a variety of other elements can be added as well, turning the celebrations into an elaborate online event.

Let’s see what some of these colleges and universities have created and how they are making their graduates feel special.

Student profiles and showcases: University of the Arts

What makes it special? The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania didn’t just set up a quick microsite but created a whole portal dedicated to commencement. There are various subpages providing information for students and family members, as well as sections introducing the graduates and showcasing their work. You can even send supportive messages using a built-in uploader.

Screenshot of the top bit of the University of the Arts website, showing the menu. The menu items are: For students For families The graduating class of 2020 The work UArts Community Show some love The awards
The navigation menu for the 2020 Commencement microsite on the University of the Arts website.

Front and centre on the UArts commencement portal is the embedded YouTube video of the virtual commencement ceremony. Scrolling down, you’ll find more information about the graduates and their work, as well as a section of supportive messages to the graduates.

There are many interactive elements to the commencement portal. Students could upload their videos for the commencement ceremony and set up their graduate profiles. Families could send supportive messages via a simple uploader tool to be displayed on the website. And the UArts Community subpage has the social wall embedded, using the hashtag #UArtsClassOf2020.

Screenshot from the UArts commencement microsite showing a student profile. The page shows a profile pic, the student’s name, major, honours and hometown, as well as links to the graduate’s website and social media accounts. There are also images and videos showing the student’s work, plus options to download their resume and artist statement.
Example profile view for graduates at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

Having a dedicated section for graduate profiles is an excellent way to celebrate the students. It may also be helpful for their job search post-graduation, especially for creative folks, as it means they can showcase their work.

Involving reunion classes: Colgate University

What makes it special? Colgate University in Hamilton, New York included video messages from the 25th and 50th reunion classes on the commencement microsite. Alumni who had graduated Colgate 25 and 50 years ago, respectively, recorded short video messages which were then put together into a video embedded on the page.

The social media wall for the hashtag #Colgate2020 was also embedded.

Screenshot of the Colgate University website. The header reads “Honoring the Class of 2020” and the website contains the following sections: a YouTube video embed of the commencement ceremony and conferral of degrees, video messages from the 25th and 50th reunion classes and the embedded social wall for the hashtag #Colgate2020.
Screenshot of the Colgate University commencement microsite.

Featured on the home page: Ringling College of Art + Design

What makes it special? I know we said microsites were the real deal, but forget microsites for a minute. Ringling College of Art + Design in Sarasota, Florida put their graduates front and centre on the main homepage!

Top section of the Ringling website. Right at the top, there’s a video message from the Dean as well as thumbnails for more video messages to the graduates, sent in by staff, alumni, etc
Ringling College included messages to the graduates on its main website.

For a few weeks, Ringling redid the whole above-the-fold part of the homepage to focus on the 2020 graduates. It included a long section of embedded videos from the Dean and others (alumni and teachers) sending uplifting and congratulatory messages to the graduates.

The social wall wasn’t embedded on the page, but a button linking to Ringling’s Walls.io URL was featured right under the top video, asking visitors to use #RinglingGrads on Instagram and Twitter to congratulate the class of Twenty20.

Interactive bonus content: Eastern Florida State College

What makes it special? Eastern Florida State College in Cocoa, Florida created lots of additional content to make commencement more interactive for every target group involved. The social wall was embedded on the page, with a short text asking people to use #EFSCGrad on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to be included on the social wall.

The microsite for the virtual commencement involved various tips and tools to make the remote graduation special for students and graduates. Users could switch between three tabs on the page to reveal downloadable social media content for graduates and family members (picture frames, sticker sets, story frames, etc.), as well as themed backgrounds for graduation parties held on video platforms.

They even created a blog post with “5 Tips for Celebrating Graduation Virtually”, which was linked to from the microsite.

Screenshot of the Eastern Florida State College microsite for the commencement. A section at the top gives “Tips for celebrating graduation virtually”. Three tabs are available, one promises “social content for grads”, the second one has “social content for family members”, and the third tab hides “video backgrounds”. The active tab is “social content for grads” and shows various Facebook profile covers, Facebook profile picture frames, sticker packs and story frames (Instagram and Facebook) for download.  A sidebar on the right-hand side shows tips to “Decorate Your Mortarboard” and “Get a FREE Alumni T-Shirt”, as well as links to additional resources for graduates.
Eastern Florida State College provided downloadable social media frames and stickers and a few prompts on the right to incentivise hashtag use for the social wall.

To incentivise hashtag use, Eastern Florida State College also included a prompt to decorate a printout of a mortarboard and share it, as well as a chance to win a free alumni t-shirt by sharing photos and videos of virtual celebrations to the social wall.

Explain how it all works: Champlain College

What makes it special? Champlain College did an excellent job of providing a lot of extra content, especially instructions and advice for how to celebrate graduation remotely.

Screenshot of the Champlain College microsite, showing a section with previews for articles that are giving advice for celebrating graduation remotely. Article topics range from “Commencement FAQs” to “How to Plan Your Virtual Ceremony Party”.
Champlain College offered lots of additional information and tips for its virtual commencement.

At first glance, Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont has set up a fairly simple microsite for graduates. The page is just a nice header, the links to the commencement ceremonies for on-campus and online students, and then an embed of the social wall.

Champlain College microsite. The festive header shows fireworks and reads “Champlain College 2020 Commencement”. The page copy reads “We are so proud of you!” and buttons provide links to the ceremonies for on-campus and online students, respectively. Right underneath it, the social wall for the hashtag #ChampGrad is embedded.
Screenshot of the Champlain College commencement microsite.

But once you click through to the separate ceremony pages for on-campus and remote students, you’re rewarded with a wealth of articles — stories from graduates, but also informative posts like How to Set Up Your Tech to Watch Champlain’s Virtual Commencement or How to Plan Your Virtual Commencement Ceremony Party.

Particularly helpful is also the article How to Get Your Content Featured on the #ChampGrad Social Media Wall. It includes useful information on what a social wall is and what kind of content to post. The article even includes existing social media posts by students as examples.

Information like that can be worth its weight in gold when people who may not be used to hashtags are involved, e.g. parents and grandparents of graduates. To cover all bases, the Champlain media team also offered options for those who don’t have Twitter or Instagram accounts or have them set to private. Photos could be shared via DM or email and were then uploaded to the social wall as Native Posts by the team. 

Create a connection with a social wall

Things may have been a little different for any student graduating in 2020, and they missed out on a rite of passage that previous graduating classes have taken for granted. To make up for that, these universities and colleges have gone above and beyond to make sure their graduates receive the send-off they deserve.

They’ve found ways to conduct commencements virtually online, by setting up live-streams and creating hubs of information and celebration around them. We can see that a social wall goes a long way towards letting people make a connection across physical distances before, during and after the commencement event.

But these educational institutions also managed to do just a little bit more to make things feel more appreciative for students and families during these tough times. Whether it’s dedicated graduate profiles showcasing students’ work, involving alumni and staff to record congratulatory messages, or fun little things like creating Facebook profile frames and cover images that allow grads and families to show how proud they are — every little bit counts.

Of course, there are ways beyond commencement for universities and colleges to use social media walls. For one, you can set up social walls for other, similar types of events. But they’re also an excellent addition to fundraising campaigns, and some universities have even set up permanent social media walls that are displayed prominently on campus.

Create a free social wall now!