College Graduation in these COVID-19 Times
April 23, 2020 5:16 PM   Subscribe

How can a department at a small liberal arts college congratulate our graduates, without physically meeting?

I am part of a medium-sized department (~30 graduating majors) at a small liberal arts, undergraduate residential college in the United States. Due to COVID-19, the vast majority of our students have left campus and are spread out across the United States (with some overseas as well); commencement has also been canceled. Normally at this time of year, we would have a picnic thrown by the department in which we have time to chat with the students, give all of them small gifts, and hand out departmental awards. All of us have built a strong sense of community within the department. Therefore, we want to do something to say a proper congratulations to our graduates, but we are at a loss on what to do to really congratulate them properly. We really know our students; we work with them in our research laboratories in groups of 3-4 for a full year, after seeing the students intermittently for years beforehand. What can we do to give these students the congratulations that they have earned, given that we cannot physically met? While we could do one massive tele-conferencing session, I just do not feel like this is enough (and we all all tired of tele-conferencing!) We could send something via the post; it would be unclear what exactly this would be (and what we can source online during these times). Any ideas?
posted by Peter Petridish to Human Relations (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Highly personalized letters to each one of them, handwritten if possible.
posted by Tomorrowful at 5:33 PM on April 23, 2020 [6 favorites]

I don't think this is necessarily a viable thing for everybody (I am not a gamer so hell if I know how this goes and it wouldn't attract us non-gamers anyway), but people are holding weddings and graduations in games like Animal Crossing and Minecraft. Or there's the "virtual prom" on Some Good News in which people dressed up and celebrated at home, maybe all on video, I'm not sure. I'll be curious to see how colleges come up with substitute activities.

Maybe have people film themselves in some kind of farewell message and someone puts them all into a video to share?

If you do have some kind of giant online party, I'd say to come up with something to do at it, at least. We had the office "birthday party" online today and it was literally over with in 15 minutes because they didn't plan much. Maybe have people give speeches? Or read those letters?
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:37 PM on April 23, 2020

Make a yearbook. Photos, short notes, anecdotes. Ask students to supply the content for themselves and each other, stipulating no sarcasm or unkindness because these times are just too difficult for that sort of 'humor'. Notes from faculty and staff,as well. Edit it into a website.
posted by theora55 at 5:38 PM on April 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

Record video messages for them to watch on their own time (or handwritten letters).

On a more goofy side you could do a superlatives type award
posted by raccoon409 at 6:18 PM on April 23, 2020

One department I teach for is prerecording a video with good wishes from all the faculty members; my main department is doing a small celebration on Zoom (we're all tired of Zooming, but it is what it is). My wife's department is prerecording good wishes and a short speech and mailing everyone their t-shirts. None of it is what we'd like to be doing, but it's something, which seems important right now.
posted by joycehealy at 6:58 PM on April 23, 2020

A hand-written letter from the faculty who know each student best seems like a high meaningful-to-effort ratio option. Making sure nobody gets left out probably requires having someone in the department willing to phone up faculty individually and make sure it happens.

I don't know how long it would take to source, but throwing a graduation tassel into the envelope seems like a nice gesture, if they're not already receiving one. (Perhaps to some it would be a reminder of the experience they didn't get to have. . . but, I suspect most would appreciate it.)

Best of luck. This sounds hard.
posted by eotvos at 7:07 PM on April 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

I love this from Newcastle University. I know you said you are all sick of videoconferencing but you might be able to take something from the spirit of it such as getting everyone to film or photograph themselves at some sort of improvised/social-distancing-compliant facsimile of a picnic wherever they are then editing the video together with comments from the staff (and students?) as audio as a memento for example.
posted by Erinaceus europaeus at 7:27 PM on April 23, 2020

Do you have some photos of the students, not necessarily a large group photo, but even some candids or smaller groups? Could you commission artwork that depicts your department this year? I've been looking into commissioning portraits (line drawing, pixel art, manga, all varieties) as ways to celebrate the graduating seniors. You can send them a digital file and send a physical print copy as well.

Another thing I've been thinking of is getting a t-shirt or a vinyl sticker designed to commemorate the students graduating in the class of 2020. Something physical that can be printed on demand and mailed to students.

Last thing I've been pondering is getting the graduating seniors a book (not the same one for everyone, but more personalized based on their tastes) and putting a book plate saying "congratulations". Or, since coming up with specific books might be hard, giving them each a book certificate to Indiebound/Bookshop but also mailing a book plate.
posted by spamandkimchi at 9:54 AM on April 24, 2020

The department I work for graduates 70-80 people a year. We have always held our own graduation ceremony and reception, not least because the all-university one is a cattle call. Keeping that in mind, and with the very strong caveat that you don't have to do all of this to do something special and meaningful, here's what we're doing.

We set up a course shell in the university's learning-management system to hold the "graduation ceremony" in. It will open up to everyone with the link (so that graduates' loved ones can also see it) on graduation day. It's structured very much like the in-person ceremony: welcome from the chair, presentation of awards, distinguished-alum speech, faculty remarks (more on this in a mo), presentation of graduates, graduate remarks (more on this in a mo too).

In a typical ceremony we'd have one faculty member give a short speech. (There is a tradition that these can be... less than wholly serious. One year the faculty speaker "knighted" the entire graduating class with a toy Jedi saber.) This year, we're embedding a Padlet to let all faculty offer text, audio, and/or video felicitations if they wish. A separate Padlet is there for graduates, who in a typical ceremony have 1-2 minutes apiece to say a few words.

(N.b. accessibility matters! We've told faculty and students to have text for audio or video. I've already recorded my video; I posted its slides and script as a PDF alongside.)

We also have a live online video chat scheduled for a timezone-friendly two hours. We're using a tool that allows folks to call in -- we know we have graduates in areas where Internet is spotty.

No lie, this is taking a lot of people's time to set up. I repeat: do not feel you have to do all of this! Take what's useful, leave the rest.

We have also already told our graduates (as has our university) that they are welcome to return for the next in-person ceremony we are able to hold. We will absolutely let them walk the stage!
posted by humbug at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2020 [1 favorite]

Is there enough room to mount poster-size photos of your graduates?
This college used a driveway; I've seen where students are able to drive in and take portraits with their immediate family.
posted by calgirl at 2:02 PM on May 2, 2020

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