Part of the Virtual Culture and Climate Series – Spring 2020

Ideas contributed by the Jostens Renaissance educator community and shared in a Facebook Live presentation on April 17, 2020.

It’s important to convey a message of hope for seniors. This You Will Graduate video by Jostens is a good quick way to start!

Graduation Friday is a weekly episode to share tools, resources and ideas for making this year’s graduation special. This week’s episode is all about virtual ceremonies and recognizing seniors.

Recap of main points from previous weeks’ episodes:

  • Traditional ceremonies are significant and ideally will be postponed instead of altered or cancelled. Some may not be able to come, but remember that for some, this is the pinnacle of their educational career.
  • Recent surveys of seniors showed strong preference for having a traditional ceremony (60% in AZ and 80% in CA). It’s critical to have students weigh in on the decision.
  • Last week we shared alternative versions of the traditional ceremony including drive-in and drive-through options.
  • Just because you get told “no” to an idea doesn’t mean it’s the end. It means you have to get more creative and come back with a better idea.

Virtual Commencement Ceremonies

Virtual is a viable option, and Jostens has created a toolkit available to all schools for planning a virtual commencement. This is free to all schools – just visit the Virtual Commencement Center and enter the code provided by your local Jostens rep.

There are three steps to a successful virtual commencement:

Platform – How will you stream and interact with your graduates virtually? You may be able to use your current system or find a new one – Jostens reps have access to a no-cost option.

Program – There are five key elements to consider, and Jostens can help with all of them:

  • Intro and Exit Music – Pomp and Circumstance audio file
  • Commencement Speeches – A library of speeches from various celebrities and influencers
  • Presentation of Graduates – File available to create a customized slideshow
  • Turn the Tassel – An animated video shows how to make this event special
  • Toss the Cap – Capture and share the moment

Diploma Presentation – There are several ways to make this special, including drive-through, parade, or stage pickup.

Check out the Virtual Commencement Flipbook for more details.


Special Guests

Rick Morton, Jostens sales representative from the Seattle, WA area

I’ve been working hard to celebrate everyone and make a special cap and gown pick-up experience for senior classes:

  • Canopies to protect from sun or rain
  • Arrows painted on parking lot to direct traffic
  • PA system with speakers and principal cheering them on by name
  • Staff decorates parking lot with signs and balloons
  • Students drive through, some stay and sit on their cars to greet others
  • Wrote “Still graduating!” on a sign, showed it to them, said “Believe it!”
  • Approved by state health agencies – masks, gloves, distance, disinfectants used
  • Schools partner with them, use it as a chance to distribute honor cords, medicines.

It’s more intense this year, we’re sure to look students in the eye and ask how they’re doing. We’ve got to give them hope and show them the administrations are committed to celebrating them. Our existing relationships with schools through Renaissance made it a natural fit to offer to help them through this crisis, by listening, confirming they’re not alone, and sharing ideas from other schools. I love educators and want to be a part of their conversations. It keeps me going every day – it’s about purpose. If you have purpose, you have joy.


Dr. Chad Smith, Principal of Powell High School in Tennessee

As an administrator, these weeks have been unprecedented. There’s no playbook or textbook.

I’ve been using social media to send out the message that we’re going to make graduation happen, we’re just not sure how or when. You’re going to walk across stage and get a PHD – Powell High Diploma.

We’ve been adapting our traditions.

  • For Senior Thank You Day, we used to have a big breakfast in the morning, our Jostens rep Josh Cole came in, and they would put the gown on for the first time and write a note to thank a teacher in the building. We’re planning to incorporate that into drive-through distribution, telling seniors to bring letter with them, and we’ll make sure the teacher gets it. Our teachers really need some connection too.
  • We’re planning to announce the valedictorian and salutatorian with a caravan, where I get out of the car and bum rush their house with staffulty in their cars, creating a moment.
  • Senior awards will be mailed out, and we’re asking staff to call those students.
  • Our highest award is the Panther Award, and we’re going to give that whenever we do an in-person graduation.

Fellow administrators: Graduation means everything. This is the hill we should be dying on for our kids.


Janice Kankolongo, Senior at Saginaw High School in Texas

It’s been a challenging time – we’ve never experienced anything like this, and online school is so disconnected.

It’s shown me how much our teachers and principals care about us. They’re showing they care and reassure us it will be OK. Existing relationships with teachers have really helped – we have weekly Zoom calls with all our teachers, our principal tweets things, teachers message me personally.

I’m going to Princeton University in the fall for chemical and biological engineering. It does help deal with the emotions and loss now, to have the college experience to look forward to.

I use social media to connect with my classmates a lot. We all have social and Snapchat or Facetime each other.

If schools don’t return, other than graduation, one thing I’ll really miss is going back to middle and elementary schools and walking with caps and gowns to say last goodbye and thank the teachers we had. Would have been nice to have that. We also have an awards ceremony to honor not just top 10% of class, but everyone who got scholarships. Hope we can still do those things somehow.

I would like to say to my educators: thank you. I know it’s hard on you too, planning online classes and lessons. Thanks for supporting us through this time, keep trying your best. Hope to see you again soon.


Ways to celebrate and recognize seniors:

  • Not Forgotten tribute video from Illinois, with every senior’s name written on the wall. It doesn’t take a committee to do something special for these kids. We’re all in this, we all play a part.
  • In Oregon, someone found an old iron sign from the high school, will refinish it and have seniors sign it and will put it up in the schoolhouse.
  • Phone tree – Shared by Alicia White in Virginia. Senior students are still working on execution, but they want to set up an old-fashioned phone tree. On the day that graduation was scheduled for, seniors will start the phone tree with first name of first student to be called, then they call the second, and so on. Great way to connect with people they might not normally talk to, like sitting next to them at the ceremony.
  • #StillGraduating Signs – Shared by Jostens rep Jason Morgan. Print these signs and recommend seniors take pictures wearing their cap and gown and holding the sign, and share on social media.


Paul Dols at Monrovia High School in California

I do a post every Friday to connect with kids and share who I am, show a little vulnerability. Everyone’s struggling, and I use #Togetherwerise because we’re going to rise above it. Seniors, this is the time, not the time you thought it would be, but you’ve been dreaming about it and the dream is still there.

Song dedicated to the Class of 2020.


Next Week: Motivation Monday – The theme will be teacher motivation, we’ll share a ton of different ideas. You can’t love others with a broken heart. We have to take care of our own.

Send your suggestions for recognizing seniors or future topics to [email protected] or [email protected].


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