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Graduation Cancelled? Alternative Ways to Celebrate!


Because of the pandemic, for the second year in a row many high school and college graduates won't be able to share in-person commencement celebrations with friends and family members.

You and your student have worked hard for years to prepare for this moment! If your grad can't walk across the stage in cap and gown to receive their diploma — if you can't throw the unforgettable bash they've been dreaming of, with loved ones gathering from near and far — what can you do to make the day feel special?

Celebrating While Social Distancing

Video Chat Parties

Though it might feel bittersweet to celebrate over a computer camera, you're still letting your student know you’re proud of their accomplishments. Regardless of the medium, it’s always nice to see your loved ones' faces and this is an easy way to include everyone as well as a fun excuse to get a little dressed up during quarantine. Your student is sure to be excited for the chance to wear their cap and gown for you even if they never leave the house.

Take the opportunity to mix it up a little. Set a theme and decorate your video chat background! Everyone can wear costumes, pajamas, formal attire or whatever your student might want. Or set up a surprise theme for your grad — maybe something that commemorates a special childhood memory. Keep the surprises coming by inviting guests they don't expect to see.

Your graduate will appreciate being the center of everyone's love and attention, and sharing tears, smiles and laughter.

Record a Video Tribute

Have friends and family members record messages to your student and compile a celebratory video. Encourage people to include words of advice and inspiration, share a story from the past, or whatever else they want! This personal, affectionate celebration will be a time capsule of wisdom, humor and memories — something to cherish forever.

Does your student look up to someone famous? Cameo can help you surprise your student with a personalized congratulatory video from their idol.

If you're looking for something a little different than the traditional video, Kudoboard allows your family and friends to all contribute to one group card. Everyone can add photos, videos, GIFs and more to help celebrate your special graduate! The boards are available to print as a poster, but your grad will also be able to access it online forever.

Themed Graduation Photoshoots

Use this extra time to get creative with the grad photos you’ll keep forever! You and your student can decide what theme you like best and even build a custom backdrop for the shoot. Can’t agree on just one theme? Why not do them all? It’ll be a fun way to spend time together, alleviate quarantine boredom and create treasured memories.

You can ask friends and family for photo requests. Maybe the grandparents would like something more traditional and serious, but aunts and uncles want something silly. You and your grad can use these photos to send out custom graduation announcements when the time comes, and reuse photoshoot backdrops and props for parties (whether in person or over video).

Looking on the bright side, only a select few will be able to say they graduated during a major historical event. This senior really ran with the coronavirus theme for his grad photos:

Create a Graduation Wish List

Suggest your soon-to-be grad compile a list of things they’re hoping to receive for graduation and share the list with extended family and friends who are looking for gift ideas. It's nice to give people plenty of time to come up with a gift that will feel meaningful.

At-Home Celebration Ideas

Gift Scavenger Hunt

Ask family and friends to ship gifts to you rather than to your student (and give you a hint as to what's inside so you can create appropriate clues). Hide things around the house with a trail of notes that require some ingenuity to puzzle out. This is a quarantine-friendly way to create a festive mood.

Make sure someone (you?) gives your student monogrammed stationery or note cards for thank-you notes.

“Take Me Back to Childhood” Party

What did your student love to do when they were little? Build pillow and blanket forts? Play certain board or video games? Were they into LEGOs, stuffed animals, arts and crafts? Maybe they loved family camping trips, or liked to put on plays and skits. It could be a show or movie you used to watch together, or a favorite family meal.

Take this opportunity to revisit some of the wonderful memories you've shared over the years. Set up a tent in the backyard and recreate the fun you used to have toasting marshmallows and playing card games by flashlight. Indulge in some make believe. Toss a ball or Frisbee, or play croquet or badminton. Watch some home videos, go through family photo albums, reminisce.

There’s nothing like a healthy dose of nostalgia to boost spirits, especially as your student prepares to venture out into new experiences.

Looking to the Future

Encourage your grad to plan future unofficial commencements!

It's hard to see your student disappointed by the prospect of online graduation or an in-person ceremony limited to just the grad with no guests. Encourage them to plan unofficial graduations with their group of friends for the future when people can once again be together in person.

While it may not be the official school-wide ceremony they were hoping for, they can still have tons of fun running around with their friends, making memories. They might enjoy goofing off while walking across a makeshift stage to receive a diploma (does anyone want to dress up as the college president?), allowed to crack jokes and make impromptu speeches in a much more relaxed environment than you'll find at most "real" college commencements. Offer to fly in, help plan, or provide drinks and snacks for the event!

However you decide to celebrate with your graduate, remember to support each other during this time. Everyone's feeling incredibly frustrated and disappointed by the recent turn of events, but there is a bright side. Your student is graduating from college! They've earned their moment in the sun, and even if their commencement will be unconventional, you can find ways to help them sparkle and shine.

High School Graduation Gift Ideas Looking for great gifts for the special grad in your life? Our Graduation Gift Guide covers it all — dorm room essentials, technology, kitchen basics and practical items that your student may never think to ask for. Find a gift they will love!


CollegiateParent supports you on your own personal journey during your student's college years. We answer questions, share stories and connect you to life on campus. Reach out to us at any time!
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Laura Vandewaal
Laura Vandewaal
1 year ago

Where do you start as a mother for graduation idea during covid quaranteer

Kelsey Gast
1 year ago

Hi Laura!

Thanks so much for reaching out. Planning a graduation celebration has been stressful for many college parents during a time like this. You are not alone! Although your student may feel disappointed, there is still a lot of opportunity to make them feel special and put a smile on their face. Communicate with your student and see what is most important to them. They may or may not have a lot to say, but this can give you some direction. If you are having trouble getting started, I would try setting up a video call with the ones that mean the most to your student. During the call you can surprise them with a cake, cards and presents. There are many other ways to get creative. Here is a helpful resource that will shed light on other ideas and what people in the community are doing to celebrate the Class of 2020.

Labake Cole
1 year ago

I work as a social worker in the school system and witnessed how many students and families are saddened as this current crisis has interrupted many milestone celebrations. I wanted to share with you and your readers an idea I created to make virtual celebrations special, inclusive, and memorable. I've put love and thought into creating Virtual Party Kits(VPK). The kits are individually mailed to the host and Guest. Kits include decorations so celebrants aren't just staring at faces on a screen but instead balloons and banners with their name on it. Kits also include party favors, goody bags games, and more. Our Graduation Kits are extra special. Aside from the decorations banners, graduation games (Scavenger Hunts, who knows the grad best) and treat boxes the graduation kits also have fly lanterns for each virtual participant. Virtual party participants can end an exciting grad party with having all guests write hopes, wishes, dreams on the lanterns, and watch online together as they sail to the sky. I would welcome the opportunity to share more information about our Virtual Party Kits. So many people are struggling to navigate this new way of living and dealing with loss I want to put some Fun in Our new way of FUNctioning. Check out VPK's website or visit our Facebook page @virtualpartykit. Congratulations to all 2020 Graduates and their families. We will get through this.

1 year ago

Cool wonderful I can use it in my graduation

1 year ago

My sister missed her graduation, and I feel bad, how can I recreate a graduation ceremony in my house?

Kelsey Gast
1 year ago
Reply to  Giselle

Hi, Giselle,

Thanks for reaching out. There are many things you can do to celebrate at home. Even if it is super small, your sister will appreciate that you took the time to celebrate her accomplishments. You can start by decorating the house with a theme, get a cake, and a present. A special thing to do is create a compilation video from friends, family, professors and more who meant the most to her. They can each send in a short congratulations video and you can put that together. There are lots of other ideas that you can pull from in the article above. Best of luck with planning the party!

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