Tag Archives: graduation

Commencement ceremonies: From the 12th century until …?

Student at commencement

Imagine that through some divine provenance the founder of your college or university was allowed one day to see their creation in 2017. Much of it would look quite strange and incomprehensible. Yet if they strayed into your graduation ceremonies, these rituals would appear quite familiar — even if your college was founded in the 18th or 19th centuries.

In his monumental series “The Day the Universe Changed,” science historian James Burke said that rituals are ways that societies and institutions can make episodes of change feel comfortable and supported. Think about wedding ceremonies: The addition of hashtags notwithstanding, the way most couples tie the knot has not changed much in centuries. Ditto baptisms and funerals. And commencements.

Commencement ceremonies date back to the 12th century, and while they no longer proceed in Latin, the graduation gowns don’t necessarily look dissimilar. But tradition holds its strongest sway in things most formal:  The suit that hundreds of men (me included) will wear at this weekend’s commencement ceremonies date back to military formalwear of a bygone era; their cut and style may change but in 100 years you would likely see something similar at weddings and funerals and graduations.

But will we still have commencements then? When people can telecommute or technologically be present anywhere in the world, will the class of 2117 still be in the same large halls as trumpeters, robes and parades of academic regalia?

I’m betting we will. We’ve already gone through a couple of decades of the fastest technological evolution in history and what has changed about graduations? With the exception of live web video streams, not all that much. Some bold colleges have played with things like hashtags and near-real-time photos appearing on big screens, but that’s window dressing.

Sure, students can tweet, stream, post, gram and snap during the ceremonies, but they still do so while wearing a robe, then accepting a diploma frame and handshake from some prominent official and strolling down a ramp, beaming toward the audience celebrating their amazing accomplishments.

In the 21st century, as we spend more time online, study after study finds people feel lonelier and more disconnected than ever. That’s why our social and community gatherings, especially those ones rooted in tradition, become more important than ever.

The more some things change, the more they stay the same. It will be interesting if future historians will look back upon this year’s graduation ceremonies and see it as something comfortable and familiar.



Filed under words

social coverage of commencement: an evolving process.

Higher-ed web types everywhere have been discussing who’s doing what to cover commencement. Streaming it live? Making it social? Turning it into a real-time multimedia production?

At SUNY Oswego, we similarly discussed options, and chose to keep moving forward and evolving. Thanks to some outstanding work by our web developer, Rick Buck, and some folks in Campus Technology Services, we greatly upgraded our Commencement webcast. Not every user would have noticed a change in quality, but many viewers — especially those on Macs and most mobile devices — may have had their first chance to actually watch. We moved to a transcoder that exported H264 … a fancy way of saying we broadcast in a format used widely in those devices.

Was that important? Consider the following: 22% of our Commencement viewers did so on mobile devices. This is a huge figure, compared to 11% of hits last year (many of those visitors unable to fully view the broadcast). This continued to underscore our current priority of thinking more and more about mobile in all web projects.

The Facebook plugin collected some nice tales of congratulations, and the interns we had monitoring the feed reported no issues. While we did not assemble a post-graduation Storify or comprehensive multimedia wrapup as some other schools did, we saw a huge amount of activity when we posted a Commencement photo gallery to our Facebook page.

A whole HigherEdLive program last week explored what institutions are doing, and other colleges had their tales of success and woe. The latter includes one university that had an f-bomb show up in its Commencement Twitter feed that caused some stress. But almost anyone who made their ceremonies widely accessible and social had few regrets.

Graduation is a happy culmination of an arduous process and — for the grads and their families — one of the happiest days of their lives. Sharing the joy, in any way possible, ultimately is a good thing.


Filed under Uncategorized

going social with commencement: hits and misses.

With our 150th spring Commencement events taking place, looking to make it special and use the connective power of social media, we added a few new wrinkles. Some worked, some didn’t. As always, I like to chronicle such efforts in case they are useful to others.

Facebook event page. We established a Facebook event for Commencement, for which I invited people I knew and then we promoted it via our official channels. Posting plugs on Facebook and Twitter, as well as the viral nature of users interacting with the event showing up in their friends’ streams, we picked up 267 RSVPs. Not a huge number, but it existed outside official communication — and it was extremely gratifying in seeing how parents and others turned it into a place to congratulate graduates, as the snapshot below shows.

Interactive webcast. We plugged a Facebook comment box into our live stream and, as the iPhone screen captures at right show, relatives and friends who couldn’t attend had great comments and interacted with each other from time to time during the two ceremonies. Since I was working the ceremony, and our webcast system doesn’t work for a mobile device, I couldn’t do a screen capture of them interplaying, but it points to a need for us to work with the broadcasting arm to make live web video more mobile-friendly. Google Analytics logged a decent 1,222 views for the webcast page, compared to 3,042 visits to our main Commencement page (which also had a link to the feed). Interns monitored the thread and could ban users who did not adhere to our very simple guidelines (No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity.) listed right on the page. No one got out of line and most were effusive in congratulating graduates. I thought of incorporating Facebook and Twitter feeds on the same page, but wiser minds convinced me all the plug-ins could slow down the process … and the video part feeding well was the most important thing. We did include a plug for the official hashtag on the page.

#ozgrad hashtag on Twitter. This took a while to take off, but especially during the morning Commencement we saw nice activity. The morning ceremony included our communication graduates, who are more Twitter active (including the ones who go through my class that requires getting a Twitter account). Interesting to see that some of the first people to pick it up were former students of mine who follow me and the @sunyoswego account, so they most likely picked up the tag from observation. We also did pre-event promotion of the tag, which likely helped. During the event — during which I also supervise the ushers and have media-relations responsibilities, I tried to live-tweet via @sunyoswego when I could. The behind-the-scenes shots — such as of the WTOP control room for the broadcast (above, which had many retweets) and our organist playing beforehand — seemed popular.

Countdown to Commencement. Borrowing from another colleges, we thought another way of building excitement would be asking graduating students to document via tweeting photo or video what they were doing in the days up until graduation. Good idea? Perhaps? Willing participants? Not exactly. Granted, some of this may have been from not having a lot of promotion other than what we could put on our social media channels. But participating was pretty much limited to my graduating interns tells me this format may not be viable for us. I rounded out our proposed slideshow with photos from our photographer or that I took for much of the Flickr gallery. Colleges with dedicated social media staffs and more general resources probably could do this better. Still, it was good to have a Countdown to Commencement page where I could aggregate social media details and multimedia efforts. And publicizing it did result in a spike in Twitter followers.

The lessons learned underscore good basic social media philosophies: be present, use your channels and cross-promote when you can. Know where your audiences are and, as the Countdown to Commencement fizzle showed, accept the occasional failure and learn from it. We don’t control many of the “official” Commencement messages that go out to students and parents, or that appear in the printed program, but our office does official top-level websites and social media … where the participating audience members already are. We’ll take our lessons and move forward. And know that maybe, just maybe, we helped some people enjoy this special day just a little bit more.


Filed under Web

drake walks the walk, gets A+

Come college commencement season, you see a lot of status games: Who’s speaking? Who’s streaming it on the Web? Who’s live-tweeting it? But frankly, Drake University has us all beat, and it has nothing to do with VIP speakers or use of fancy technology.

Drake’s graduation day started with a nightmare scenario as Glenn Koenen, whose daughter Cassaundra was set to receive her sheepskin, suffered a heart attack while waiting for the ceremony. According to the Des Moines Register, an ER nurse attending to see her niece graduate, a doctor and two Drake staffers sprang into action and restarted Glenn’s heart with a defibrillator. And while that kind of life-saving heroism is commendable, what happened next is perhaps even more remarkable.

As Cassaundra sat beside his hospital bed, Glenn rued that he’d ruined her graduation day. A nurse contacted the college to see what they could do. What they did exceeded anyone’s expectations: Drake’s college president and other administrators came straight to the hospital room to present Cassaundra with her diploma in front of her dad.

Think about that: A college that cares enough that its president goes to the hospital on graduation day to present a diploma! If you are a student considering Drake, have a child attending the college or are an alum, you’ve got to feel really good about what this says about the institution.

As we all look at and discuss what social-media tools and other gadgets we use to promote our institutions, we can never forget the most important lesson: People matter. What any college does for one of its students in his or her hour of need is its greatest test. By that measure, Drake University scores an A+ and provides a lesson for us all.


Filed under words