Tips for Enhancing a Virtual College Graduation in 2021

Student Voices

Tips for Enhancing a Virtual College Graduation in 2021
portrait of Sarah Sherren
By Sarah Sherren

Published on May 3, 2021

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College graduates can enhance virtual commencement ceremonies to make this important event unique, meaningful, and memorable.


With graduation just months away, things were starting to get exciting. Finishing up my last few classes, tests, and papers felt so liberating. But exactly what my graduation ceremony would look like remained up in the air.

My college continued sending out emails that said to check back later for commencement plans. With COVID-19 vaccine distribution on the rise, it seemed as though my university might be making arrangements for an in-person graduation.

But when that fateful day in late February came with an official announcement of a virtual graduation, I realized I'd gotten my hopes up, and was left feeling conflicted, hopeless, and upset.

Colleges around the country are figuring out ways to hold graduation ceremonies that resemble pre-pandemic commencements but still take into consideration public health concerns.

If a virtual graduation is the reality for graduates like me, we need to find ways to give ourselves the celebration we deserve and close this chapter of our lives.

Some schools have opted for multiple outdoor events, such as the University of Florida, which will host 14 graduation ceremonies over the course of several days. Other colleges are trying in-person ceremonies with only graduates in attendance, and even more are choosing to hold everything virtually.

Whatever the plan for each college, no graduation will be exactly like the one graduates envisioned when they began pursuing their degrees. If a virtual graduation is the reality for graduates like me, we need to find ways to give ourselves the celebration we deserve and close this chapter of our lives.

After a year of remote classes, yet another livestreamed broadcast or Zoom call may make graduation ceremonies much less appealing. Watching some long speeches from our apartments could feel like just another online lecture.

Without a proper ceremony to commemorate the years of mental exhaustion, hard work, and intellectual achievement, it won't feel like we've really graduated. Finishing college without a memorable celebration could make it seem as though school never really ended or that earning your degree wasn't the great achievement it truly is.

Enjoy a Moment in a (Borrowed) Cap and Gown

Renting a cap and gown when you won't even get to walk across a stage might sound like a waste of money, but getting that moment for yourself can give you the closure you need.

The triumphal feeling of walking in a cap and gown can give you the satisfaction of knowing you conquered it all.

One benefit of online ceremonies is that not all graduates have to wear their regalia at the same time. A friend can order a cap and gown and then rent it out to others (with appropriate cleaning in between) throughout the last few weeks of school to give everyone a chance to get pictures by their school sign as they finish up their degrees.

Graduates usually get their diplomas in the mail, so that won't change, but finding another way to feel like you're actually graduating is important. Though the papers, tests, projects, and everything else were hard in the moment, the triumphal feeling of walking in a cap and gown can give you the satisfaction of knowing you conquered it all.

Because you're symbolically walking from one stage of life to another, formalizing this experience in your cap and gown can give your family and anyone who supported you the chance to feel that sense of accomplishment with you. Share your cap-and-gown moments on Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok to create a memory that you, your friends, and your family can look back on for years.

Find Unique Ways to Celebrate a Livestreamed Broadcast

My university's commencement ceremony will be livestreamed to all graduates and their families. Listening to speech after speech isn't the highlight of graduation for most people anyway, but finding ways to make it yours can make it more meaningful.

Here are some ideas for enhancing a livestreamed graduation:

Dress Up: While it may be acceptable to watch a Zoom lecture while wearing your favorite pair of sweatpants, dressing up for your virtual commencement will make it feel all the more special. Decorate Your Virtual Background: You can make banners, put up streamers, or buy 2021 graduation signs. Even if you won't have your camera on, it'll still enhance the event and create a more celebratory atmosphere. Order Food or Make Your Favorite Dish: Why? Because food makes everything better. Commencement speeches can run long, so one benefit of virtual ceremonies is that you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Share the Broadcast With Others: This way you can celebrate your accomplishments with those who wouldn't have been able to attend in person. Make invitations to mark the occasion, and be sure to send everyone a reminder of your special day. Watch the Event on a TV or Projector: Try to give yourself a break from your laptop. It might require more work to set everything up, but watching your university commencement on a larger screen will help make the experience feel different from your online classes. Create a Slideshow, Scrapbook, or Time Capsule: In other words, put together something that will remind you of your time in college. Virtual ceremonies might feel less intimate, but they provide more opportunities for you to showcase your unique college experience with loved ones.

We're Moving On — Onward and Upward

Graduation isn't just about celebrating the past — it's about looking toward the future. Don't let this moment pass unnoticed. Commencement serves as both a bookend to your education and the start of a completely new chapter in life.

Commencement serves as both a bookend to your education and the start of a completely new chapter in life.

Everyone will move on from graduation along a different career and life path. Working in a digital world has become the norm, and we the class of 2021 should feel especially equipped for handling remote work in our careers.

Even though watching a livestreamed broadcast from a tiny college apartment might not sound special, finishing college during a pandemic will be. Years from now, we'll look back at pandemic days with all sorts of memories, both good and bad, that will unite this group of grads forever.

Take a moment to celebrate with those who've supported and helped you along the way. A virtual ceremony alone may not quite give the satisfaction and closure 2021 college graduates need, so find something that will make it unique and memorable. Have your moment to shine so that you can look back on this time in your life and relish that sense of pride and accomplishment you deserve.


Feature Image: Kemal Yildirim / E+ / Getty Images

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