How to Create a Memorable Virtual Commencement Ceremony

Many organizations are still navigating the different ways to keep guests safe during events.

For colleges, with commencement ceremonies right around the corner, this question is more pressing than ever. How can you have a memorable graduation without putting students, teachers, and guests at risk? 

Fortunately, it's never been easier to opt for a virtual graduation ceremony. Using the right virtual event platform ensures your guests have a wonderful time without the risk of contracting an illness. This article will dive into the ins and outs of this process, as well as provide some virtual graduation ideas to make the event more engaging.


Virtual or Hybrid Commencement Ceremony?

Graduation is often the biggest event of the year for students and parents, meaning the event has many people in attendance. Even with vaccines and boosters readily available, many places are not allowing full-scale events yet. Also, even as things are making their shift back to “normal,” many guests may still be wary about coming to an in-person graduation with so many people around. 

So, the question becomes whether you should have a fully virtual or a hybrid commencement ceremony. Let's break down some of the pros and cons of each option.


Virtual Graduation

One of the primary benefits of a virtual graduation is that it's often much more affordable to host an event in a virtual venue than an in-person one. So, if you don't have a massive budget, virtual ceremonies can be more cost-effective. The main disadvantage of this option is that it's hard to replicate the live experience. Even with interactive content, games, and live streams, it won't feel the same as being there in person.


Hybrid Graduation

In this case, you can host your commencement both live and virtually. Those who feel comfortable attending can do so, and everyone else can participate virtually. A hybrid event solution offers flexibility and safety for everyone involved, and it's easier to have a more interactive experience. The downside, however, is that the logistics of a hybrid event are more complicated than the alternatives. 


Case Study: The University of Southern California

Before making a final decision, it helps to see what others have done successfully. Back in 2021, 6Connex helped the University of Southern California host a hybrid graduation ceremony for over 50,000 attendees. Part of the reason the event was so large was that it combined the classes of 2020 and 2021. Also, attendees logged in from all over the world, making the event an even more considerable success. 

A big reason why USC felt so comfortable using the 6Connex virtual event platform is that the university had already done so multiple times before graduation. Also, USC had been broadcasting its ceremonies for the previous ten years. So it already had the infrastructure to do so again. 

But, how did it work? USC and 6Connex decided to host 26 different environments over multiple days. This way, attendees could pick and choose the experiences they wanted and attend whenever was convenient for them. Considering that people came from around the globe, this flexibility helped ensure higher attendance. Also, with 26 environments, it's much easier to engage thousands of attendees virtually instead of having everyone in a single Zoom room. 

Because the 6Connex platform is modular and versatile, it was easy for USC to create scalable environments. With regulations shifting so quickly and without warning, the software could adapt just as fast. It's easy to add and remove pieces as necessary to ensure a seamless experience. In fact, the whole event was such a hit that USC is planning to do it again for 2022 and beyond. 


Virtual Commencement Ceremony Ideas

Whether you're leaning toward a virtual or hybrid graduation ceremony, you need to ensure your guests have fun and stay engaged. Here are our top commencement ideas to make the event as successful as possible. 


Host a Multi-Day Event

USC's commencement lasted for six days. By breaking up the experience like this, it's much easier to ensure higher attendance for individual elements. Overall, it's hard to keep people engaged online for more than a couple of hours, so trying to fit it all in at once can lead to a sharp drop-off in engagement. 

That said, you also want to make sure your guests are okay with attending on multiple days. If possible, try to gauge interest and collect RSVPs ahead of time. This way, you can get a better idea of what's popular and what isn't before committing to anything. 


Host Interactive Games

Virtual games and experiences are much more prevalent today than at the start of the pandemic. For maximum effect, you can host multiple games simultaneously so that guests can choose the one they want to play. Some examples of virtual interactive games include: 

    • Casino Tables - This option also works well for hybrid events since guests can play at live tables in person or with a dealer online. 
    • Game Show - Jeopardy or Family Feud translates well to a virtual environment. It's also relatively easy to broadcast these games so attendees can watch as if they're the "studio audience." Plus, you can relate the questions to your school to make the experience more unique and engaging. 
    • Scavenger Hunt - Guests can scavenge for items within their own homes, or they can do it at the event. You can have different lists for both attendee types to ensure that everyone has a great time. 
    • Bingo - Who doesn't love bingo? This game is easy for everyone to learn, and you can find digital cards to send to virtual guests. Plus, you can customize your bingo with unique words and/or images. 


Make it Social

Most students are on social media platforms already, so why leverage social media and incorporate it into your commencement ceremony? For example, you can use a social wall for students and guests to post on during the event. Or, you can create a hashtag for guests to use on various platforms like Twitter or Instagram. 

Afterward, you can share photos on social sites and tag attendees. Doing this will create a digital photo album of the event, making it far more memorable for those involved.


Use Multiple Live Streams

If you're hosting a hybrid event, you might want multiple cameras streaming the event from different angles. There can be an "official" stream that shows the commencement ceremony in its entirety. Then, you can have "candid" streams that show guests having fun and interacting during the ceremony. You can even have a roaming event host talk to the guests and ask questions for a more engaging experience


What to Consider When Hosting a Virtual or Hybrid Commencement Ceremony

Once you know what kind of event and activities you're doing, it's time to plan the logistics. If you haven't hosted a virtual or hybrid event before, there are plenty of obstacles to overcome, such as:


Using the Right Virtual Event Platform

As the USC case study illustrated, event software like 6Connex can handle massive commencement ceremonies with thousands of guests. Even if you have a smaller school with just a few hundred attendees, this platform can still work well. Overall, you need event tech that can: 

    • Accommodate live streams and virtual environments
    • Make the event interactive for both hybrid and virtual attendees
    • Have an efficient onboarding experience
    • Allow you to scale up or down based on your needs (for example, if fewer people RSVP for the virtual portion, you won't need as many digital activities or environments)


Onboarding Guests

Technology is ever-changing, and many people are still unfamiliar with attending a virtual event. So, you want to go over any potential onboarding issues. For example, what if someone logs on from their phone instead of a laptop or desktop computer? Can they still participate in games or other activities? 

What if you use multiple programs during the event? Can guests switch back and forth within the same platform, or will they have to log in on multiple devices? 

Overall, you should anticipate any struggles that guests may have (particularly older attendees) and figure out how to address them quickly and efficiently. This way, the onboarding process can go as smoothly as possible. 


Testing Activities and Scripts Beforehand

Typically, for large events like this, a rehearsal helps everyone stay focused and understand their role. Because you're using digital environments and activities, it's imperative for everyone on the back end to familiarize themselves with the technology. What happens if there are any A/V issues during the broadcast? Are individuals logging in remotely, or will everyone be on-site during the event? Do you have to worry about time zones or potential conflicts? 

Ideally, you can rehearse everything multiple times before the event to ensure no hiccups during the ceremony. This way, you can create a more memorable graduation for all the right reasons. 


What About Diplomas or Graduation Certificates? 

One of the essential elements of a commencement ceremony is handing out diplomas or certificates to the graduates. So, how will you handle this for those attending virtually? Will you mail them out ahead of time, or will you display each diploma and send them after the event? If you have a mix of in-person and virtual grads, will you do one group first and then the next, or still handle everyone alphabetically? These are all things to consider that can help make your virtual commencement ceremony a success.


Let the Virtual & Hybrid Events Company Help!

Planning a virtual or hybrid graduation event can be challenging and overwhelming, especially if you're new to the technology. Fortunately, a reputable team can assist you from start to finish. When it comes to the virtual event industry, no one knows better than the pros at 6Connex. The 6Connex platform is customizable, easy to use, and works well for events of all shapes and sizes. For more information on how you can get started with your organization’s virtual graduation, request a demo or contact us today. 

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