How to Organize Virtual Graduation Ceremony in 2021

Virtual graduation has been the buzzword since 2020.

A quick look at the search data from Google Trends confirms it to be true.

Since virtual graduation ceremonies are still new thing to many, institutions are on a frantic lookout for any information on how virtual graduation works and what they need to anticipate.

What complicates the situation is, students will be expecting a well-planned and better online commencement ceremony this year. Which means graduation coordinators need to be thoroughly informed of all aspects of this format of commencement.

In this article, we will discuss how virtual commencement works and what the commencement coordinators need to know to make their virtual graduation ceremony successful.

We have covered the following topics –

Do stay on.

The look and feel of a virtual commencement ceremony

In many regards, a virtual graduation ceremony is quite similar to an online conference. The prospective graduates, faculty members and other dignitaries all log into the virtual graduation platform. The diplomas and regalia are mailed to the students beforehand.

TCNJ virtual graduation 2020
Image source: tcnjsignal.net

On the day of the event, students attend the virtual ceremony from their personal devices. Faculty members and dignitaries deliver their speeches. Premade videos congratulating the graduates are shown. These videos are not just heart-warming but also fun as different people make videos in different environments.

Here is how Stanford University has done it.

Steps to plan a successful virtual graduation program

Hopefully, by now, you have got a pretty good idea of how an online commencement looks like.

Lets now talk about how to plan one in the best possible manner.

The following are some of the mandatory tasks to follow when planning your online graduation ceremony:

1. List all the content you will include in your virtual graduation

Different institutions include different multimedia content in their online commencement ceremony. Some ask their students to send videos expressing their feelings. Some ask for photos of them with regalia on with their families. Whatever items you want to showcase during your event to deliver your graduates a personalized experience needs to be curated.

Additionally, you should determine a standard of the content you will need from the students. For instance, what will be the size of photos, the duration of the video and other relevant factors.

2. Find a virtual graduation platform that suits your requirements

There are a considerable number of virtual graduation solutions available now. From among these, you need to find the one that can meet all your needs without getting in the way of managing your ceremony.

For this purpose, try asking for quotations from all graduation ceremony solution providers you can find online. Then go through their features carefully to understand how it works. If possible, try to find institutions with a volume of graduating students similar to yours. When you talk to them about their virtual graduation ceremonies, you will have a pretty clear idea about what to expect.

3. Set up all the logistics

In this phase, you will need to be in close communication with the virtual graduation solution provider you have chosen. From the graduation ceremony sign-up link to duty assigning and finalizing the designs for memorabilia with the vendors, it’s crucial that you have everything in place. Do some test runs multiple times from different devices to make sure everything is working smoothly.

If you are going to mail the regalia and the diploma to the students, then you will need to ensure that their order processing platform is well-integrated into your system. Since your students are not being able to attend the most joyous event of their lives in-person, you need to put added effort into making sure every step of the entire online event is simple and intuitive. The longer you will spend in this phase, the easier the actual management will be on the commencement day.

4. Get all your prospective graduates to register for the event

This is the most obvious and crucial phase.

Just like the registration for in-person graduation, students will register by going to your graduation page on your website. The sign-up process for graduation at Brandman University required its students to provide statements, image and video for the personalized graduation slides.

The virtual graduation solution you have chosen should offer a highly-customizable form for this purpose. When preparing the form, try to make sure each field is self-explanatory and has all the necessary information in place. That way, your students will experience a smooth registration.

5. Have your PR team promote your event on social media

As your students will be talking a great deal about their online graduation event, they will be delighted to find out more about it on social media.

Thus, the PR team of your institution will need to promote your online commencement ceremony on social media. We suggest you keep your students informed of what’s happening behind the scene through your posts. That way, they will know about the excruciating effort you are putting so that they can have a memorable event.

6. Final check of every element of your system

Hosting a virtual event requires a strong and stable connectivity. Additionally, it needs many things to sync perfectly with each other.

That’s why you would need to test run every aspect of your entire setup multiple times to ensure everything goes as planned on the event day. These include attending to students who didn’t receive their regalia and diploma, checking the payment processor for the memorabilia shopping, speed and bandwidth of the livestream delivery link and any other relevant issues. The more you will test everything before the event, the smoother your graduation ceremony would be.

Calculating the cost for a virtual graduation event

After you have learnt about the things you need to do when planning your virtual graduation, you will intuitively think about the cost. Let’s break it down for you.

Ballparking a solid number is tough when it comes to answering this question. So let us inform you of the factors that will determine the cost of hosting your online commencement:

Your graduating student volume

As you can easily understand, the bigger this volume, the higher the cost will be.

For every student, you will need to create personalized items, deliver the memorabilia, reserve additional bandwidth for live streaming the ceremony to the students’ families along with other conventional expenses. Each of these will add to the cost.

The features you will offer your students

The more features you want to offer to your students, the higher will be the cost. 

Some of the features can be:

  • Personalized graduation slides
  • Accurate name pronunciation
  • Personalized video/audio message from the students
  • Branded video of campus tour 
  • Memorabilia and gift items for the graduates

…and many more.

Depending on your virtual graduation solution, it may add to the cost as well. IIT of India created student avatars for their virtual graduation. That is something you may want for your students. If you offer your students the option to choose their desired set of features, then this option needs to be integrated in the registration process. That may add to the cost as well.

In case you want to see how a student avatar for virtual graduation looks like, please watch the video below:

Once you have all the aspects of your virtual event noted along with the respective costs, you will have an educated and precise estimation of the total cost.  

Factors influencing the duration of an online commencement ceremony

Duration of your virtual graduation event depends on a number of things. Such as –

Number of graduating students

During the event, the name of every student needs to be pronounced clearly and accurately. Furthermore, the personalized slide needs to be displayed as well. When done for the entire graduating class, it will definitely take up significant time.

Schedule of your virtual graduation ceremony

In case your institution has multiple departments, and you want all their graduating students to attend the commencement together, then the duration of your event will be long. This is the reason many universities have set different commencement dates for the departments. The schedule of your event will also depend on the duration of your event. If it’s going to be long, then it should start early. If not, then it can start later during the day.

How carefully you did the test run before the event

We strongly suggest you test run the entire process of conferring the degree to the student. This process consists of displaying  the personalized graduation slide of the student, pronouncing their names accurately, displaying the custom video of the students and the final announcement of the degree conferral. All these need to be accurately scheduled so that the entire process runs smoothly.

During the test run, do keep careful track of time taken for one student. Then multiply this time with the number of graduating students. Add the durations of the addresses by the dignitaries. It will give you a reliable estimation of the duration of your virtual commencement. If the total duration adds up to be 1-2 hours. If it’s more than that, consider holding your graduation ceremony on different dates. If your institution doesn’t have many departments but has a large student body, you can assign time slots to students based on criteria of your choice.

Choosing the best virtual graduation software within your budget

Like the cost and duration of a virtual graduation ceremony, this is a tough question as well. Because of the surging demand for online graduation solutions caused by COVID-19, a rising number of companies will be emerging in the market with increasingly diverse features.

So before you take on the challenging task of zeroing in on a solution, try to do the following things:

Define the criteria you want to be associated with your event

Do you want your event to be exciting? Or short and memorable?

Your answer to this question will directly influence your virtual commencement ceremony budget. While you would try to stay within your budget, you will need to keep the emotions of your graduating students in mind. Thus, at this point, we advise that you focus on how you would want your graduation ceremony to be. You can always make changes in the event flow before you pay the solution provider.

Conduct a student survey

Since your graduating students are the heroes of your event, it is only logical to find out about their expectations. Conducting a student survey will give you a clear idea of those expectations. Findings from this survey will not only tell how they would want their event to be but also give you an idea about current trends.

Prepare a list of questions for potential solution providers

The answers to the questions on your list will give you a realistic picture of the current scenario regarding online graduations. Additionally, the details provided in the answers will help you determine which provider has a higher degree of goodwill. Besides, you will also get an idea of the cost of your graduation event.

Reevaluate the features you want to offer to your students

As mentioned above, the number and type of features you offer to your students will proportionally impact your budget. Thus, it is important to narrow down your list of chosen features. Doing so will be easier when you perform the above steps and get a clear idea of student preference and service fees of the solution providers. When completed, you will be able to communicate with the graduation service providers better as you will know how you want your virtual event to be.

GradPak might be able to offer the best virtual commencement solution within a short period of time, including customized registration module and personalized graduation slide. All within an affordable price range. Click on the link to request for a free demo.

In the end…

Try your best to be empathetic towards your graduating students

When planning your virtual graduation, it is understandable if you try to reduce cost. While doing so, it will be wise to keep the students first. As we have already said, they are the heroes of your event. Do try your best to make sure that they find their virtual graduation memorable.

Always keep students at the center of virtual commence ceremony
Image source: gspia.pitt.edu

As a graduation coordinator, one thing you should consider though.

While online commencement is the trend now, many institutions are likely to go for hybrid ones. There are various reasons behind this decision such as the local infection rate, lockdown, budget and others.

Thus, graduation committees of many institutions are busy trying to conclude the “virtual-or-hybrid commencement” dialogue for themselves. 

What do you think about it?

Would you prefer hybrid commencement over going fully online?

And if you do go for virtual, how are you going to do it better this year?

Let us know in the comment section below.


Featured image: School vector created by freepik

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