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Prepping for Graduation Season During a Pandemic

Ianni Le

As graduation season nears, the initial shock of cancelled or postponed ceremonies has worn off, but it is still bittersweet thinking of all that could have been.

Whether your student’s graduation has been rescheduled, postponed, turned into a virtual event, or cancelled outright, you are not alone. We’re all having trouble letting go of everything we’d looked forward to for such a long time. I still can’t quite put into words exactly how heavyhearted this whole experience has made me feel, and I know my disappointment is shared by grads and their families around the globe.

But there's always a bright side, even if you have to look rather hard to find it.

To the Class of 2020, know that the whole world is in awe of you and your resilience. The entire country has banded together to come up with truly inspiring ways to celebrate the Class of 2020. Though it’s not the same as being with your high school or college class in person, with everyone you love there to share the joy and pride of your accomplishment, these online tributes make me a little misty-eyed (and what’s graduation season without a few tears after all?).

Watch these with your graduate...or borrow an idea to create your own unique virtual tribute.

John Krasinski dedicated Episode 6 of Some Good News to Graduation 2020. Real graduates share inspiring words in a "class speaker" montage followed by four mind-blowing commencement speakers in conversation with graduates to answer their questions about moving forward into the future.

This touching letter to the Class of 2020 is a beautiful commencement speech to make up for the ones we won’t hear in person. Aptly titled “You Thought You Were Free, but History Found You,” I found it both poetic and very in tune to what graduates might need to hear right now by celebrating the sheer tenacity it takes to get through such an experience.

NBA star LeBron James will host a virtual celebration on Saturday, May 16. As James observes, this year's graduates are learning, in a very real way, what it means to overcome challenges and he wants to shine a light on their triumphs. "Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020" will run on a variety of television networks and social media streaming platforms and will feature cameos and performances from famous artists, actors and influencers.

Facebook's broadcast #Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020 will feature a commencement speech by Oprah Winfrey as well as musical performances. The broadcast is officially scheduled for May 15, but Facebook and Instagram will be rolling out special graduation features on both platforms leading up to the event, such as specialty stickers, music and virtual graduation hubs.

Barack and Michelle Obama are hosting a virtual graduation ceremony on YouTube to honor the Class of 2020. Their live stream, Dear Class of 2020, will take place on June 6th and will feature commencement speeches, musical performances and a surprise special guest. Graduates from all over the world are already connecting on the live stream chat to share their names, schools, majors and more! Besides Dear Class of 2020, the Obamas will also be participating in two other virtual celebrations and you can find the dates below:

Beyond the internet, seniors everywhere are still finding real-time ways to celebrate.

Like most, my friends and I are struggling to figure out the best way to commemorate graduation and make sure we don’t just let it slip by like it’s just any other day. I don’t want to sit in front of my computer and watch a digital version of what could have been. It simply doesn’t feel like my own.

So, along with other seniors in my building, I celebrate the little things like receiving my cap and gown in the mail and getting the chance to don the ensemble for the first time, even if it’s just to try it on for my roommate. I'm definitely going to personalize my graduation cap!

Graduation photo shoots are all the rage since everyone has time on their hands. My roommate and I have more than one in the works, and are on the lookout for locations that will both look good in pictures and help us remain at a safe distance from other people. Make a day out of it and see if it's possible for you and your student (and anyone else who's part of your household) to visit their college campus to take photos and revisit special memories.

I plan to video chat with my parents in my cap and gown, so they can feel like they’re a part of the celebrations, too, even though they can’t be with me. My mom and I have also planned a video chat to bake our favorite cake together. I’ll share the cake with the graduates around me, sending them pictures and dropping off Tupperware (which I sincerely hope will be returned to me at some point) filled with cake!

While I have no doubt the families of the Class of 2020 will come up with lots of creative ways to celebrate, here are some of my favorite ideas:

1. Walk down memory lane on social media.

Most grads and their families are probably already planning to share cap and gown pictures on social media. But reminiscing is part of the graduation package! Go through your old photos and share the ones that make you smile. Personalize the posts with memories to make your graduate feel extra special and loved.

2. Write your graduate a letter or commencement speech.

Express your recognition of their accomplishments during this difficult time and give them something to keep forever. Memorialize this unique pandemic commencement point in their lives with words they can keep and look back on. Your graduate literally just made history — they’re incredible!

3. Honor the standard traditions.

Whether they be unique family traditions or classic commencement pomp, incorporate them wherever and however you can. Social distancing requires creativity and flexibility but you can still have fun! Your graduate can contact their classmates to vote on senior superlatives, or compile videos and photos from over the years to make a graduation video. Encourage your grad to decorate their cap so they'll have a personalized memento.

4. Express gratitude.

There is so much to be grateful for, and under these strange and unsettling circumstances thankfulness is more important than ever. Encourage your student to write their own speech or thank you letters to all their friends and family. They can include funny anecdotes or special memories that tug on your heartstrings, all while reminding themselves exactly how much they have to be thankful for now.

5. Take inspiration from other pandemic celebrations!

You may have seen the Club Quarantine video that went viral a while back. This family turned their garage into a “club” with Dad acting as the bouncer and Mom as the bartender to give their 21 year old his first legal drink in style and safety.

Turn it on its head and do the same for your graduate! Have them sneak snacks in their gown and pretend to be security personnel checking that they adhere to Clear Bag Policies and the like. Make them get up at 7 a.m. to attend the ceremony; maybe make it especially difficult for them to find a seat or find you in the “crowd.” Be silly — it's an excuse to have some laughs AND celebrate your student the way they deserve.

@emilytorchiaIt was a good time ##ButterGlossPop ##gamingszn ##selfquarantine ##coronavirus ##MoodBoost ##21♬ original sound - emilytorchia

If your family is looking for something a little more decorous, here's one family's seriously sweet take on an at-home graduation:

6. Invite friends and family to a drive-by commencement parade.

Embrace the theme and encourage invitees to decorate their cars. Make sure your graduate has the best seat in the house and some party supplies to help them participate.

To all seniors and their families, I can only say that my heart goes out to each and every one of you because this whole experience never fails to leave me speechless.

But we’ve adapted, we’ve persevered and, despite everything, we’ve made it! Achievements are still achievements even without the big campus-wide celebrations we’d dreamed of.

As you celebrate your graduate, remember that the most important thing is to communicate how proud you are. Pomp and circumstance aside, that's the only gift they really want to receive.

Find more ideas for alternative graduation celebrations here >


High School Graduation Gift Ideas Looking for great gifts for the special grad in your life? Our High School 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!


Ianni Le is a freelance writer and content creator. She attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, graduating with a degree in Media Design and English Literature. Ianni grew up in Shanghai, China and enjoys her dogs, books and food equally.
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