There are a few benchmark moments in life that deserve the royal treatment. High school and college graduation fit into that category, without a doubt. Graduation is a time to celebrate, reflect, and reunite with the people who matter most. It’s a special day to honor past accomplishments, share memories with friends, and let loose.
In that spirit, we’ve shared a few tips for planning a graduation ceremony, so students feel ready to take their next big step in life. This guide is designed for the school faculty and administrators involved in the process. We know that planning a graduation commencement isn’t an easy task, but these suggestions will help your ceremony stand out.
Above all else, it’s crucial that your graduation ceremony is safe for everyone, including the elderly and disabled. We recommend planning the logistics in a meticulous way, so that you have a strategy for every possible situation or emergency. The venue should have ample entrances and exits, it should be large enough to support the maximum number of attendees comfortably, and there should be accessible seating for handicapped people. Safety is paramount.
Next, you should adorn the venue with tasteful and unique decor, so attendees get excited when they arrive. Your decorations can match the graduating class colors, but they should have a personalized style so the audience doesn’t lose interest. Even a few colorful banners, balloons, and student artwork can transform a generic gym or sports field.
Remember, you’re planning a graduation ceremony for students, family members, and close friends. Their memories are far more important than making the school look good, or raising more money for the alumni fund. To that end, every phase of the ceremony should be catered to the audience’s needs. For example, attendees can be greeted with a welcoming slideshow on a large projector screen as they find their seats. You can ask students to share a personal photo and a favorite quote, so the audience has something heartfelt to watch leading up to the main event.
Once the ceremony starts, your slideshow can switch to a live camera feed, so that everyone has a close-up view of the proceedings. This will ensure that late arrivals can still watch their child graduate without bringing a set of binoculars. It also heightens the event’s emotional impact, as the camera operators can capture students as they file into the venue, along with the commencement speeches.
Next, it’s vital that the ceremony is shot by talented photographers and videographers. This allows attendees to pay for professional photos if they want to relax and enjoy the ceremony. It also minimizes the amount of people taking out their smartphones and desperately trying to shoot a close-up of their special graduate. Many parents would prefer to pay an extra fee for quality photos of their child.
To ensure that the ceremony doesn’t run too long, and attendees aren’t exhausted in the summer heat, you should approach each commencement speaker with rules for their speech. This can include a strict time limit (ex. 10 minutes max) and guidelines for appropriate topics. Make sure the speakers understand that their anecdotes should eventually point back to the shared student experience. For example, they may want to share some life lessons, profound insights, or inspiring words.
There’s nothing more frustrating than growing up with an exotic sounding name, having it mispronounced throughout K-12, and then hearing it butchered at college graduation. In the weeks before the ceremony, make sure to pass out index cards so that students can teach you exactly how to pronounce their name. Then, drill the faculty who will be calling students to receive their diplomas, so that they feel confident about every name on the list. There’s no excuse for poor pronunciation.
If you plan to make a case for joining the alumni foundation and donating to the school, do it with grace. Family members and graduates want to give back, but they don’t want to be lectured or guilted into it. Instead of sharing prideful stories about the school and faculty, try to frame the alumni association as a community for students to help each other. Avoid clichés, tell inspiring stories, and don’t make a sales pitch.
Ultimately, your ceremony’s success depends on a well-told story. Every great narrative has a carefully crafted arc, with a gradual build-up and a few surprises along the way. Depending on your school’s history, the graduating class’ academic department, and a few other variables, you can establish distinct themes that add character to the ceremony. Every graduating class faces unique challenges during their education, so there’s always a compelling story to tell.
Last, but not least, you can throw out the playbook and start your own tradition. It could be a special song, dance, or random activity that engages students and adds levity to the proceedings. If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas, try surveying students and alumni in the months leading up to graduation. See what puts a smile on their faces, and find an activity that honors their achievement.
Planning a graduation commencement is a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be difficult. At GraduationSource, we offer extensive resources for graduation planning, cap and gown orders, and much more. Call (800) 352-6162 to speak to our Graduation Concierge, or request a quote online today.