What Is a Virtual Commencement and How Can You Join in the Celebration?

By University Staff

What Is a Virtual Commencement and How Can You Join in the Celebration?

In October 2020, more than 13,000 Ashford University* graduates were invited to celebrate together at the University’s first fully virtual commencement ceremony

Read on to find out how the University made the special virtual event memorable.

What Was Ashford’s Fall 2020 Virtual Commencement?

One of the lasting memories for every college student is the day that they celebrate the completion of their degree and realize that after all of the hard work and sacrifice, it was all worth it. In 2020, to ensure graduates, their families, and faculty were able to mark this significant occasion safely from anywhere in the world, the university hosted its first-ever live virtual commencement on October 11, 2020 at 10 a.m. PST. 

Unlike the 2020 spring commencement, which was replaced with a pre-recorded emergency online graduation celebration due to the COVID-19 pandemic, University leadership prepared for the fall ceremony for several months. Recognizing that graduates often plan months or even years in advance to attend commencement in San Diego, they wanted to make sure graduates had the best possible celebration given the circumstances. As such, the University went “above and beyond” to create a fully immersive and inclusive live experience that celebrated both the spring and fall graduates in one major event.

“This will be a virtual experience that acknowledges everything our graduates have accomplished,” explains the University of Arizona Global Campus Vice President Katie Scheie. “Everyone is invited to create their own celebration, gather family and friends together virtually or in-person, and view the ceremony together.

“I’m really excited to see all of the creative ways that our graduates participate.”

To help make this a memorable event, there were a number of “experiences” planned. Some of the many highlights included:

  • Video acknowledgements of Global Campus CHAMPS mentors, Honor Society students, and graduates of the University’s Honors Program
  • Doctoral graduate celebration featuring the Doctoral Hooding Ceremony and doctoral poster sessions
  • Keynote speech from Forbes publisher and futurist Rich Karlgaard
  • Speeches from Global Campus President Dr. Craig Swenson and University Deans Dr. Iris Lafferty and Bob Daugherty
  • Spotlight on the Alumni Association with information for graduates

However, perhaps the most exciting experience during the virtual celebration, Scheie says, was the option for graduates to produce individualized “stage clips” of themselves in their commencement attire. Every graduate received a link prior to the ceremony, which allowed them to submit a picture or video and receive a custom clip with introduction and outgoing highlights that could be shared directly to their social media channels. 

“This wasn’t available for the virtual spring graduation celebration, and I’m really excited to see what our graduates will do with the stage clips,” she says.

In lieu of the traditional Saturday celebration that usually takes place on the Saturday before commencement, the university hosted a “pre-party” event on Facebook, which provided graduates a chance to brag about their achievements, win some AU swag, share thier inspiring stories with others, invite family members to join in the fun and send well wishes to you and your classmates, and all come together as the Class of 2020 to celebrate together — even if it’s virtual. 

How to Throw a Commencement Party at Home

Because the university is a global campus, it’s not unusual for graduates to celebrate their greatest achievement from a distance. 

Past commencement ceremonies have been streamed online for graduates who were unable to make the trip to the San Diego office, and those who have stayed at home have gotten creative in their commencement planning. To help you stay organized and get your creative juices flowing ahead of the ceremony, the university created a Commencement Checklist that served as a guideline, provided some ideas on how to get festive, and ensured you can enjoy a stress-free virtual celebration. 

Then follow some of these additional tips below on how to make the most of your virtual commencement:

1. Background decorations are a must

If you’re someone who goes all out for the holidays, you already know a thing or two about decorations. This is one of those occasions where it’s perfectly acceptable to make the celebration all about you, so choose any room you like and give it a makeover with signs, streamers, or anything that puts a smile on your face. 

If you’re inviting friends or family to join you, encourage them to bring signs of their own. You could even kick it up a notch and have shirts made up with your face on them, with large lettering that says “Congratulations!” 

2. Send evites and announcements to friends and family

If your loved ones aren’t traveling to your home for commencement, you can still make a plan to have everyone together for your big moment. Send an evite or virtual graduation announcement with details on the commencement ceremony.

3. Host your commencement watch party online

Zoom and BlueJeans are among the video conferencing tools that have gained a global audience of users during the pandemic. But apps such as Houseparty also allow you to connect with friends and family, and Houseparty will even let you play trivia games during breaks in the ceremony.

4. Create a congratulatory video montage

Students are adept at forming friendships within the online classroom. One way to celebrate your collective accomplishments is to gather congratulatory video messages from each other and create a montage. You could be the person who kicks things off by creating a video congratulating one classmate, and then ask him or her to “pay it forward” by creating their video for another. 

5. Make a graduation story

If you’re not shy about sharing your personal achievements on social media, you can create a “story” for commencement. Start by taking videos and photos of the decoration process, then let your followers watch as you chronicle every moment of the big day. Don’t forget to include your “thanks” (like an award ceremony acceptance speech) and talk about all of the people in your support system that have helped you get through college. 

6. Cookies and cake

That’s it. Eat cookies and cake. Check out some of these delicious recipes. Enjoy!  

For even more inspiration, here’s how a few of your peers say they plan to celebrate (or already celebrated!) the completion of their degree program this year:

Heather Miguera: “We will be watching it on our tv. I’ll have my kids and husband help decorate the house! I’ll be wearing my cap and gown. So thankful for this opportunity and humbled to have made it this far!”

Carla Wilson: “I plan on playing it on all of the devices in the house. My 5-year-old daughter will be watching as well. She tells me how proud she is of me! I hate that I can't walk due to COVID-19, but that won't stop me from making it an awesome day! I already got my graduation pictures done, and I am so excited for this day!”

Charlene Mullins Heck: “2020 has caused many graduating classes to miss the ceremonies to mark their achievements. However, there are many ways to overcome this. While I didn't get to walk across the stage with my classmates, myself, my niece, and two of our friends were honored by our church. They gave us a ceremony. We walked up the aisle of the church in our cap and gown. Our music director played pomp and circumstance, our name's, degrees, and where we had graduated from we're announced. My daughter was our valedictorian, so to speak. It was amazing! 

Morgan Navarro: “I know celebrating virtually isn’t how we planned to graduate this year, but under the circumstances, we are. I’m blessed that I’ll be able to celebrate with friends and family that day as I’ll put on my cap and gown and be surrounded by the ones I love and know love me. Getting my bachelor’s is everything I dreamed of, and I’ve been through trials to get to where I am today. I’m excited to graduate!”

Angela Ring: “I will be celebrating at home with my family. I could not get my cap and gown due to my husband was the only one working and has been out of work due to a work injury. I had to overcome a lot of obstacles. One thing is, during my classes last year, I had to have total hip replacement surgery, but I still keep going. I am so proud of myself for obtaining my BA in psychology.

Alice Woodard Talley: “I have been celebrating my graduation since the last day of class, which was July 13, 2020. I will continue to celebrate until the official graduation day in October virtually with my family and friends, showing off my BA in Early Childhood Education, Cum Luade status.”

Charmaine Freitas: “Spending my milestone with my son. Showing him that no matter what life throws at you, hard work and dedication pay off. I plan to wear my cap and gown with pride!”

Aneka Evans: I will be celebrating with my family. Even through everything we have gone through, me and my daughter are graduating together. She's graduating from another school, but she has been my motivation and has stood by my side as I finished with honors here at Ashford. Who says you can't do it at 49?! I Can and I Did!”

Naquita Driver: “I will be celebrating this milestone with my children and family. It’s kind of bittersweet because I lost my mom right before the end of school, so now she is not here physically to celebrate this moment with me. I know she will be here in spirit, so I will try to enjoy this moment to the best of my ability!”

One Last Thing

Don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate yourself. Graduating college is a significant life achievement, placing you firmly on the path to becoming a lifelong learner. Share your accomplishments with the hashtag #AUgrad20 and enjoy your success!

“This is all about celebrating your achievements, your sacrifices, and the incredibly hard work that you’ve put into finishing college,” Scheie says. “Our graduates represent our legacy, and we can’t wait to see what you do!” 

*Ashford University is now the University of Arizona Global Campus.


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