Commencement Celebration and Ceremony Reimagined

A look into visualizing a virtual event to honor this year’s graduates

Graduation is a joyous affair. After years of work and investment, students and their families have the opportunity to celebrate the graduate’s new beginning. While this year’s virtual commencement event will be different, the achievement and excitement will be the same.

“Once we realized the significance of the pandemic and the likelihood of its duration, our students’ graduation experience became a priority,” said Curt Crespino, vice chancellor of external relations and constituent engagement. “It was a difficult decision, but in the interest of everyone’s health, the chancellor and the provost made the final decision that virtual graduation this spring was the best approach. Also, graduates will have the opportunity to walk in December.”

As leadership formed a committee to determine what virtual graduation would look like, they engaged student leadership in the planning process.

“We wanted students’ perspective on what would make the ceremony meaningful,” Crespino says.

Emma Weiler, who will be graduating with her Bachelor of Science in nursing, served on the planning committee for graduation. Weiler is the Student Government Association speaker of the senate, and was familiar and comfortable representing students on administrative committees.

“My biggest concern with the virtual graduation process was allowing family and friends of graduates to be able to view and feel a part of the ceremony,” Weiler says. “I really felt for first-generation college graduates, although I am not one, for not being able to celebrate their accomplishment in person with their families.”

"We made it a priority to find a balance between a traditional ceremony and a celebration.” - Jenny Lundgren

The committee sent out a survey to students to identify what was important to them. They used that feedback to plan the event.

“We realized that some people may only want an in-person ceremony, but there are others who need the opportunity for closure and to see their classmates, even virtually,” Crespino says.

Once the committee had responses from students, they could envision an engaging plan. One thing seemed certain: Honoring the original date and times of the ceremonies was important, as well as recognizing the students’ affinity to the schools with which they are affiliated.

“Our students tend to be strongly aligned with their academic units, so we knew there would need to be a strong unit flavor to the event,” said Jenny Lundgren, provost and executive vice chancellor.  "We made it a priority to find a balance between a traditional ceremony and a celebration.”

Weiler felt the administration was responsive to student feedback.

“I think it is very important to allow those who graduate in May the opportunity to walk in December if they want too, and they were very responsive to that,” she said.

“The virtual commencement will still be a great way for me and my family to celebrate my accomplishments.”- Emma Weiler, senior

In addition, the committee felt it was critical to touch each student personally. The team developed celebratory packets that will include honors cords and a traditional Roo lapel pin along with a few other surprises.

“We understand this is a very significant moment for our graduates and their families,” Lundgren says. “We’ve also created a commencement book that will be a commemoration of the unique experience of the class of 2020. We wanted it to reflect that.”

While Weiler is disappointed about waiting until December to walk, she is determined to make the best of the situation.

“The virtual commencement will still be a great way for me and my family to celebrate my accomplishments,” she says. “I think it is great that the university is doing what they can to make this a special experience for students. You are never going to make everyone happy, but they are really trying hard to make this special for all the graduating seniors.” 

Commencement by the Numbers
  • 12 School ceremonies
  • 2,100+ May graduates
  • #Classof2020RooStrong

Commencement schedule

Published: May 4, 2020

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