Refresh Your Commencement Coverage with Compelling Content

Students at a commencement ceremony

Give your commencement coverage some pomp

It’s that time of year when flat hats and long robes are the height of fashion. That’s right, commencement is just around the corner. If you’re like me and coming up on your seventh straight commencement, it can be tempting to fall back on the conventional, tried-and-true approach. But this year, why not try something new?

After all, commencement is a milestone that engages a majority of our audiences in one way or another, evoking pride, nostalgia and heightened awareness of the institution. Since we have their attention, let’s make the most of it. By using the wide array of tools at our disposal to create varied content types and by taking a second look at rites and traditions we may have become inured to over time, we can turn this annual ceremony into a laboratory for compelling, inventive content. And that content can serve a range of purposes, both in the moment and over time.

To do so, let’s take some cues from television. Yes, T.V.! The small screen provides a wide range of program types from which we can draw inspiration for our own coverage.

The 24-7 News Network

Make commencement a 360-degree experience. Live tweet it. Populate a hashtag. Capture all hashtagged tweets with a tool like Cover it Live. If you’re livestreaming commencement, see if you can use a tool that incorporates a chat/comment function (like UStream or Facebook), so viewers from afar can share their reactions. Update your website in real-time. If the organizers are so inclined, see if you can get comments from well-wishing alumni solicited via Facebook read out loud as part of ceremony or hashtagged tweets displayed on the big screen.

Reality TV

What’s happening behind the scenes and beyond the audience? What’s going on in the robing room? How are diplomas delivered? Is there a story behind who gets picked as the master of ceremonies? Any kooky traditions at work? Where do families go out for breakfast, and what does the owner of the breakfast place have to say about the occasion? If there’s a house occupied by six seniors who are best friends, what’s going on there before the ceremony?

Variety Show

Get people to sing a bit of the school fight song or alma mater. Or hum “Pomp and Circumstance.” Or pick a suitably cheesy pop song and get everyone to warble a bit. Catch it on video and edit the snippets into a whole. Instant school-wide sing-a-long!

The Montage Episode

Curate the best of your past coverage of students or events that transpired during the tenure of the graduating class and pull it into a “greatest hits” collection of content. What did today’s senior do as a sophomore that got him splashed across your website in 2009? Revive that, and tell the story of what led up to this moment.

The Embedded Reporter

Do you have a media savvy intern graduating this year? Would they be willing to live tweet, snap pics or even shoot mobile livestreaming video with an app like Qik throughout their commencement experience? This can be tough, since everyone is distracted by family, friends and the emotional heft of the day. But if you’ve got the right candidate, it can be a unique and powerful way to represent the experience.

Red Carpet Coverage

What’s happening as students nervously stand in line, marching cards in hand, waiting to filter into their seats as “Pomp and Circumstance” plays on a loop? What’s on their minds? Ask them, on video if possible. Can’t get a word in edgewise? Observe from afar. What shoes are they wearing? How have they decorated their mortarboards? Any fun signs or props? Capture the imagery in pictures or words.

True Hollywood Stories

When celebrities are profiled on shows like E! True Hollywood Stories, more often than not, it’s by interviewing all of the people close to them. So head out into the crowd and talk to family members, faculty and others who have remembrances or reflections on the graduating class. For another take, reach out to your alums—easier if your reunion weekend coincides with commencement—and see what advice they have for the graduating class, or what remembrances they have of their own graduation day.

Plan Your Programming

Once the diplomas have been handed out and the tassels have turned, what next? What do we do with all of this content we’ve created? Well, today’s graduates are tomorrow’s alumni—can your alumni office use it to connect with alumni, young and otherwise? Or how about admissions? Give future students a sense of the four years that await them. And don’t forget parents—they’re the ones on the hook for those four years, after all. When thinking about your Commencement content, share your ideas with these offices to get input, coordinate post-commencement plans or perhaps even strike up a collaboration.

What are your content plans for commencement? Do you have any success stories or good examples to share?

Photo by whatcouldgowrong / Flickr Creative Commons

  • RSS
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
About Georgy Cohen

Georgy Cohen is associate creative director, content strategy, at OHO Interactive in Cambridge, Mass.. Prior to OHO, she worked with a range of higher ed institutions, including stints at Tufts University and Suffolk University and as an independent consultant, on content strategy and digital communication initiatives. Keep going »


  1. Another great post Georgy. At American University, we have five separate commencement ceremonies in one weekend, which can be exhausting. We livestream all of them, have a hashtag for the weekend (#2011AUGrad), and live tweet it—so we definitely fall under the 24-7 News Network heading. We have a commencement webpage that features the livestream with the #2011AUGrad Twitter stream running next to it. Within an hour of each ceremony ending, we post a video of the commencement speaker’s speech along with a transcript. This year, now that we have a videographer, we will be posting a “highlight reel” video with each ceremony as well. We’ll also have a Facebook stream embed on the page, which will show the photos of happy graduates and their families that we post to Facebook after each ceremony. Last year, we had more than 400 tweets with the hashtag and were a trending topic in D.C. It’s a ton of work and hell to coordinate in the few weeks before commencement (I’m in the thick of it now), but it’s definitely worth it to allow family members who can’t make it to the ceremony to experience the entire event from home.

    I would love to hear what other schools are doing, particularly the new and innovative stuff, so I can steal it from you next year.

  2. This year we will be live-streaming our commencement for the first time this year. We hold our ceremony offsite and this is the first year we have been guaranteed internet connection. Along with that, I will be live-tweeting as best I can through the event.

    I wish I could update our website in realtime, but due to circumstances outside my control, it is not possible to update our website from anywhere but on campus #sadpanda.

    Happy Commencing everyone!

  3. Bruce Floyd says:

    We always live-stream commencement for those family members who cannot attend in person. We’ve also promoted a hashtag – #UFGrad2011 – so we can track conversations.

What do you think?