With the COVID-19 pandemic uprooting traditional college graduation ceremonies, schools and students must turn to virtual options and creative alternatives.

Celebrating College Graduation During Coronavirus

  • Due to COVID-19, colleges are postponing graduation or planning virtual celebrations.
  • Graduates are finding unique ways to host their own graduation ceremonies online.
  • Some schools are exploring creative alternatives for online commencements.

For the class of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to define and reshape graduates' last year of college. At the end of March, campus closures upended students' lives, forcing them to finish their final year virtually.

Now, as graduation nears, students and their families are grappling with the reality of virtual graduations replacing traditional in-person ceremonies. While many schools are working to stay on track with an online May or June commencement, others are postponing graduation until the fall in the hopes of delivering a more traditional experience at a later date.

Some colleges, like Brigham Young University and Yale, are canceling graduation without announcing any immediate plans for a future date, citing health concerns and preventative measures to minimize the spread of the virus.

These shifts are leaving students conflicted and families uncertain about arrangements for flights and hotels.

A woman in a graduation cap and gown, seen from behind, sits in a crowded auditorium.

How Seniors Are Handling 2020 Graduation

Graduating college is one the most significant and exciting milestones in a student's life. Though many schools plan to recreate this experience virtually, others have postponed or canceled graduation ceremonies altogether.

[S]tudents have decided to throw their own virtual graduation ceremonies as they await official decisions from their schools.

While the need for caution is understandable, some students are feeling robbed of the traditions that make these ceremonies so rewarding. Graduating students at the University of Notre Dame organized a petition, asking the university to reconsider its immediate decision to host commencement online.

Meanwhile, other students have decided to throw their own virtual graduation ceremonies as they await official decisions from their schools.

Even with family and friends applauding virtually, it's difficult for colleges to deliver the same uplifting commencement speeches and unique traditions that are fundamental to college graduations. Walking across the stage and accepting your diploma in front of your loved ones is an unmatched feeling, one that many students in the class of 2020 may sadly miss out on.

The lack of a real graduation ceremony serves as both a reminder of the lost time and the challenging road that lies ahead with an extremely volatile job market.

Alternative Approaches to Graduation Celebrations

Robotic Placeholders

Arizona State University's Thunderbird School of Global Management is using virtual robots with photos and videos of students to walk in place of graduates. Students were asked to send in photos that will be displayed on the robot when their name is called to cross the stage.

Virtual Ceremonies

Many colleges are officially transitioning to virtual ceremonies that are either pre-recorded or hosted in real time through online platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and Facebook.

Video Game Gatherings

Unsatisfied with their colleges' virtual graduations, some students are reimagining their own. Upcoming graduates at the University of Pennsylvania are building their school's campus and a ceremonial stage through the video game Minecraft to create a more memorable experience.

Personal Billboards

As some schools cancel or postpone ceremonies, students and families are finding innovative ways to celebrate. One graduate's parents paid tribute to his accomplishment by renting a billboard. The creative act garnered hundreds of thousands of interactions on social media.

Unique Graduation Ceremonies During COVID-19

While some colleges have postponed or even outright canceled spring 2020 ceremonies, many schools are transitioning to virtual graduations and exploring creative alternatives to make the day as meaningful as possible.North Central Kansas Technical College, for example, consulted with students and leadership to determine the best way to officially celebrate its graduating class. The college created a pre-recorded video and organized student "watch parties" to allow classmates and instructors to celebrate together in full graduation regalia.

[UW] is preparing a live, worldwide webcast that will allow family members to look at photos and messages from the entire graduating class.

Other institutions, like Harford Community College, are hosting a ceremony through Facebook and Microsoft Teams, giving students the ability to add comments and congratulate their peers in real time.

The Ohio State University opted to provide graduates with a special commencement speech. Students tuned in to watch Apple CEO Tim Cook deliver an encouraging tribute to the class of 2020 directly from his home. While it might not have served as a replacement for in-person ceremonies, the university hoped to create a memorable experience for its largest graduating class to date.

The University of Washington (UW) is working to deliver both virtual and in-person commencement ceremonies. Currently, the school is preparing a live, worldwide webcast that will allow family members to look at photos and messages from the entire graduating class. UW also intends to hold a traditional graduation in June 2021.

A woman in a graduation cap and gown holds a diploma and smiles while texting on her smartphone.

Tips for Celebrating College Graduation During COVID-19

  • Create a slideshow.

    You can include pictures and videos reflecting on your achievements and memories throughout your time in school. Encourage your friends and family to add personal anecdotes and messages.

  • Take and share photos of yourself in your cap and gown.

    Everyone needs a reason to get dressed up during quarantine, and taking college graduation pictures is a great way to memorialize this major milestone in your life.

  • Hold a small ceremony with your family at home.

    You can still have a fun graduation party — it'll just have to take place in your living room or backyard. Get the family together and decorate with streamers and balloons that match your school's colors.

  • Host a video chat party with your family and friends.

    Create a theme, decorate your backgrounds (or use a fun virtual backdrop), and celebrate with the people who have cheered you on every step of the way.

  • Support your local bakery by ordering a graduation cake.

    If they're not accepting graduation orders, take the DIY route and bake your favorite cake at home.