The Covid 19 pandemic and social distancing measures have resulted in the cancellation of hundreds of graduation ceremonies in 2020. As hopes of holding in-person celebrations faded many universities have opted for online ceremonies using video conferencing software. But are they really a fun way to make the best of a bad situation? Or are they just a pale imitation of the real thing and not worth the time?
What does a virtual ceremony involve?
Universities have taken different approaches to their virtual ceremonies, but most have involved some form of commencement speech by the Vice-Chancellor, a guest speaker or an academic, followed by a roll call of the graduating students.
To ward off Zoom fatigue most universities have also opted to host individual virtual ceremonies for different subject groups. Arguably this approach could provide an even better experience than a ‘real’ graduation as it keeps the formalities brief and focuses the graduation event on tight knit peer groups who have shared their lectures and tutorials throughout university.
Some universities have added some additional fun elements to their virtual event, such as an online cap throw. Many encouraged students to improvise and make their own caps and gowns from household items, and the University of Bedfordshire even offered a downloadable mortarboard cap and scroll cut out on their website!
Others took a more traditional approach, such as the University of Birmingham, who added a bit of pomp to the proceedings with a zoom performance by the University brass band.
The downsides of a virtual graduation
It was always going to be a tall order for universities to be able to replicate the sense of excitement and celebration, that comes with a graduation event, in a digital space. A large part of a graduation day is not just the ceremony itself but the fun of a day out in your university town, one final time, shared with family and friends. Whilst students and parents might be able to raise a glass of champagne over zoom that atmosphere is hard to replicate!
Fortunately many families have got around that problem by combining the virtual graduation with an in-person event at home. Whether that involves decorating the house with bunting and balloons, baking a graduation cake, or hiring a cap and gown and having some professional photos taken, students and parents have been finding creative ways to combine virtual and physical celebrations to mark the occasion.
The way forward
Whilst a virtual graduation is a good way to mark the achievements of students in an era of social distancing, it can never be a substitute for the real event. Students have welcomed the news that most universities are still planning on hosting in person graduations when it is safe to do so, and are viewing virtual events more as a temporary stop gap.
If you have a virtual graduation coming up, or are looking to do your own home graduation ceremony, then check out our DIY graduation package.