Donovan Group Resources

Alternative Graduation Ideas to Celebrate the Class of 2020

For most high schools across the country, holding a traditional in-person graduation ceremony is looking less feasible by the day. Although some states’ shelter-in-place orders may be lifted or relaxed by late May or early June, it might not be safe for large groups of people to gather for commencement.

This leaves an entire class of seniors without the send-off they were expecting to receive this spring.

Although nothing can replace walking across the stage in front of family and friends, schools and districts across the country are coming up with alternative ways to celebrate the Class of 2020. In fact, it won’t be surprising if many of these approaches will become commonplace in the years to come, long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Here are a few of our favorites — and perhaps some ideas you can implement in your school district:


Virtual graduation ceremonies

With so much uncertainty, high schools are planning virtual graduation ceremonies to celebrate seniors from a distance. The superintendent and high school principal may each give a short speech, recorded from their homes or the school. This would be followed by announcing each graduate’s name and showing their photo on the screen.

The ceremony can be streamed live online (such as via Facebook, Periscope and/or YouTube) and on a local TV station, if possible. All graduating seniors and their families will receive a copy of the video, which may also be posted online for posterity.


Limited in-person ceremonies

By late spring or early summer, it may be possible for a few people to come together in one place, as long as they take the proper precautions. Some high schools are planning events at which students (and perhaps a few family members) come to the school and receive their diploma from the principal — one at a time.

Each senior will wear a cap and gown and take a photo receiving the diploma. A videographer can also be there to record each student’s individual “ceremony.” At the end, the school can create a video compilation that, at least in some way, mimics what one would find at a traditional commencement.

The principal, superintendent and others can also record graduation speeches as part of this process. Seniors will then have a keepsake of a graduation unlike any other.


Showcasing seniors on social media

We shared this in a previous blog post, but western Iowa’s Storm Lake Community School District created a fantastic social media template to highlight each member of the Class of 2020. Below is an example. Each day, the district has been posting to Facebook and Twitter a customized version of this graphic for each student.

celebrate graduates online

District staff reached out to students’ families, asking for a photo of when they were young and a more recent photo (usually a senior picture). Between the two images, the student provides a short reflection of what they’ve learned during their K-12 academic careers.


Video messages to seniors

Even if a traditional graduation ceremony somehow becomes possible, the Class of 2020 has still had the final weeks of their time in your schools interrupted in unimaginable ways. It’s important to acknowledge the disappointment these students may be feeling about the loss of spring sports seasons, theater performances, concerts, prom and other events, as well as the fact that they may not have the opportunity to see many of their classmates again.

School and district leaders, along with teachers and staff, can provide messages of hope and encouragement through simple videos. Here’s an example from Winthrop High School in Massachusetts:



These videos do not need to be overly complicated. Sometimes a simple video, with a principal or superintendent speaking directly into the camera, can be truly impactful. Check out this example from the Hatboro-Horsham School District in Pennsylvania:


Lawn signs honoring graduates

Many schools have been providing seniors with lawn signs to display in their yards or windows each spring for years. This can be an especially nice gesture during our current times. Schools can make this happen with a simple design and by working with a local print shop. We’ve even seen some businesses step up and donate these signs as part of their efforts to support their communities during COVID-19.

Graduation ‘wave parades’

Teachers and staff in communities across the country have been organizing “wave parades” for their students, lining up their cars and driving past students’ homes. The events have been wonderful to see and can give kids a sense of hope and consistency during these challenging times.

High schools can do something similar for graduation. Seniors and their families may line up their vehicles and drive along a predetermined route, providing a nice way to celebrate and bring attention to the Class of 2020. Just be sure to work with the local police and ensure everyone practices social distancing.


‘Light Up the Stadium’ events

During these brief events, schools turn on their stadium lights, with students and families invited to stay in their vehicles and take part in a demonstration of solidarity. Some have volunteers passing out popcorn and beverages, while music plays from the stadium’s PA system. The principal or another staff member may also give a brief address celebrating seniors.

One cool idea we’ve seen is lighting up the stadium for 20 minutes, from 8 to 8:20 p.m. — or 20:20 in military time. Whatever you do, just make sure everyone knows to maintain social distancing!


These are just a few of the creative ideas we are seeing as schools and districts find new ways to celebrate graduation at a time of social distancing and school building closures. As we get closer to when many high schools would typically hold their ceremonies, we are likely to see more ideas pop up in communities across the country.

Learn more and find free templates for communicating by visiting our Coronavirus Communication Resource page. If you would like further guidance on how you can best communicate about COVID-19 in your school or district, contact the Donovan Group.

Leave a Comment