Virtual graduation ceremony inspiration for summer 2021

With pandemic restrictions lifting and the vaccination drive running at speed, some US universities have managed to hold in-person, socially distanced commencements this spring. 

But, like their class of 2020 counterparts, many graduating students have had to mark this milestone virtually. For those that have had the privilege of throwing their caps alongside friends, few have shared the day with family and loved ones as hoped. Technology, once again, has had to bridge the gap – with some institutions going to impressive lengths to engage attendees from afar.

Last year, Purdue University in Los Angeles became the first university in the world to host a virtual reality graduation – sending out headsets to students and using an Insta360 Pro 2 camera, streaming to YouTube's 360-degree video platform. Check out last year's blog post on what they achieved. 

Although Purdue has this year welcomed students back in person, with each limited to two tickets, it has relied heavily on livestreaming again to involve family back home in the celebrations, this time on the Kaltura platform.

Wharton School Celebration Kit

Most universities hosted livestreams on YouTube, but some, like Purdue, have looked to other broadcasting platforms. Wharton School, for example, used Wistia as well as YouTube. The draw of paid-for platforms is advert free hosting, advanced analytics, and, in some cases, in-built video editing. All-device compatibility is another factor to avoid proud parents tuning in and finding they can't access the livestream. They even provided a celebration & social media kit for graduating students including virtual backgrounds, Spotify playlists, shareable invitations and Giphy Stickers!

Website destinations enabling virtual experiences

Yale University allowed in-person ceremonies this year, carefully choreographed to unfold over four days rather than two, to allow for social distancing. But the commencements were strictly for graduates only, and the university committed to an impressive digital offering to share the celebrations with those unable to attend. 

Yale 2021 Graduation

With a dedicated website easy to navigate and filled with clear links to ceremonies, performances and even a podcast, the university went to great lengths to make the virtual offering engaging and accessible. Video montages of candid moments of celebration among students outside the ceremony confines also captured the emotion and atmosphere.

Harvard Business School Graduation

Harvard stuck with largely virtual commencements but, again, committed heavily to bringing the celebrations to life digitally. As well as a livestream, there were slick videos and a wealth of content including profiles of graduates on its homepage. The Harvard Business School's graduation microsite also ticks boxes for visual appeal and accessibility. 

Virtual graduation packs to bring the party home 

Columbia University held small-scale in-person events in April but placed a heavy focus on virtual celebrations and bringing the day to life at home with free, downloadable DIY graduation packs.

Columbia photo booth props

They included photobooth props, mortar board toppers, and virtual backdrops for those tuning in online for the occasion, with a strong push to sharing on social media and submitting to the 2021 'look book' to ramp up the digital community spirit.

The University of Chicago has taken the same approach in advance of its June 9 convocation, as did the Wharton School, which even created downloadable invitations for students to send out to guests of their virtual parties in May. Princeton held a socially distanced commencement at Princeton Stadium but also had a supporting social media toolkit and 'social cam' displaying messages throughout the ceremony, showing the focus on clever graduation day social media marketing is here to stay. 

Delivering digital human touches to mark the occasion

Penn University held a limited in-person outdoor undergraduate commencement ceremony for students meeting strict Covid-19 testing requirements, and no guests were allowed. 

But what stood out here was the focus on involving the family and friends who weren't able to be there by broadcasting during the event and moving pre-submitted video messages from loved ones who had printed off supplied backdrops and decorations. It was a poignant human touch.

Hybrid, online and in-person graduations

With so many great examples of universities upping their game to deliver experiences online as well as more physical events happening this year it's a good time to cast our eye to the future. 

Long-distance learning is on the rise, and the pandemic has undoubtedly brought innovations to online education as well as the way university events are delivered online. The impact we think, for many, is an improvement in the overall quality of graduation ceremonies so that when we get back to normality, many institutions will be better equipped to deliver hybrid in-person and online experiences to mark this all-important right of passage.

How has your institution adapted to deliver commencement ceremonies this year? What did you learn from last year's events? And what did your university do to bring the celebrations online to life? We'd love to hear.