Building a Virtual Graduation Celebration During COVID-19
Graphic adapted from this Lightstock image.
They've spent nearly two decades working toward it (sure, some harder than others). It's one of the first major milestones in most people's lives, and a rite of passage into adulthood. But this year, most schools won't be reconvening, which means most graduating seniors won't get the opportunity to "walk."
What a great opportunity for the local church to step in to celebrate and encourage bewildered kids whose futures might seem a little less bright these days.
A lot of churches have traditionally honored graduates in their body during a "Graduation Sunday" service, but given the circumstances, we think it's appropriate to go beyond an acknowledgment during a normal Sunday service and do something more special.
Here's how we'd build an event to honor the class of 2020 during the age of COVID-19.
Live or Pre-recorded?
Ultimately, you're probably going to build off of the processes and infrastructure your church already has in place. So if you're streaming your weekend services directly to Facebook from a cell phone with no graphical/transitional bells-and-whistles because that's what your limitations allow, you're most likely going to face the same limitations with this endeavor.
For the sake of this article, I'm going to assume you have the ability to edit pre-recorded content and to switch between video sources in a live production context. But that doesn't mean you won't be able to glean some value out of it if you don't.
Ultimately, you could pre-record pretty much everything I'm going to suggest here, but I think a better implementation would be to have a mix: a live host with pre-created media content/segments.
Regardless of how you plan on executing the event, one of the bigger decisions you'll have to make is where to host it.
If I were planning it, I would create a private Facebook group specifically for this event. This method keeps it separate from the rest of your church's online presence, allows your graduates (assuming they're in the group) to invite their friends and family, and allows you to moderate attendance. You can use it as a place to engage with attendees outside of the event itself: start threads where people can encourage the graduates, do yearbook-style superlative awards, or even invite people to post baby pictures of the graduates.
You'll need to decide whether you'll use Facebook Live (or Facebook Premiere) from your church's page or, perhaps, from your student pastor's account. You'll also need to be prepared with some help to manage the comments section after you go live—but if your host is up for it, engaging with the commenters could make things much more entertaining (but likewise, it could go really poorly, so do this at your own peril).
Planning the Event
How you program the event will depend on your limitations, but also—maybe to an even greater extent—how many graduates you're honoring. If you have fewer than five, you might want to make it more personal. If you have more than, say 20, you'll probably need to pare back some of the personal touches for time's sake.
I'm going to assume most churches fall somewhere in that 5-to-20 window or thereabouts, but again, even if yours falls outside that, you'll find ideas here that you can use.
It's always good to start any "live" stream or scheduled broadcast with a bit of a buffer before the actual content starts to give people a chance to join the stream. This is a great place to put a slideshow of the graduates with some fun facts. If you're really bold, you can use the baby pictures you gathered above.
People are watching to see and honor their son, niece, friend, or granddaughter. The more on-screen appearances you can give each graduate, the better.
Event Intro Video
We're so into the idea of a virtual graduation celebration, we created a bumper video for it. And it only actually works for this year, so you should use it. You can download it here.
At this point, you can switch to a live (or pre-recorded, if you so choose) person welcoming the audience, addressing the virus-shaped elephant in the room, and setting expectations for the rest of the stream. It's totally appropriate for this segment to be entertaining, and even nostalgic. Give people context for the perspective of this graduating class. Share some statistics—for example, it's plausible that all of the graduates you're honoring were born after 9/11. 😳
Just keep it under 10 minutes.
Use the "Transparent PNG" download option for this graphic as a lower third to display text without cutting away from your host.
Introduction of the Graduates
This section will be largely dependent on how many graduates you have. If you're in the window I mentioned above, one approach to take would be to switch to an on-screen slideshow of each student, while your host reads their name, their favorite verse, their future plans, etc. If you are on the lower end of the window, you could do a Zoom call interview with each student beforehand that you edit into the stream.
Traditionally, the commencement speech is all about looking to the future and charging ahead with boldness and changing the world, and there's no reason this year's graduating class should hear anything different. They have the same Hope every class before them has had, even though their circumstances might look a little different. Encourage and empower them, but remind them in whose hands their future lies.
Closing (Hype) Video
Depending on which angle you take your commencement speech, we have a few "hype" videos that are intended to inspire. Here are some we think would work really well for this context:
What Are We Afraid Of?
It's Our Time
What Did You Feed?
We built this collection of media specifically to help you honor the graduates in your church online during this crazy season. The best part? You can download any of it for free with our free trial. Sign up here. If your church sees the value having access to our huge library of ready-made church media brings, roll into a full membership. Otherwise, cancel with no obligation.