How to Celebrate Your Graduation

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It’s graduation season — and, understandably, parents, friends, classmates and the graduates themselves are at a loss for how to celebrate. For the 3.7 million expected to graduate high school this year, streaming a commencement address by a prominent politician or celebrity isn’t a substitute for the feeling you get walking across a stage and receiving a hard-earned diploma. Smiling for photos, surrounded by classmates, enjoying a meal at a restaurant with your family after the ceremony … those are just some of the graduation rituals that have been put on hold for the time being.

This week on “Together Apart,” four public high school students in Chicago decide to take matters into their own hands and create one last shared experience for their class, virtually.

Here are some tips if you’re trying to figure out how to mark the day in addition to what the school is already planning.

Graduates, organize a video call so everyone can log in and see each other at the same time. Wearing the appropriate graduation gear like caps and gowns will make the event feel more special. It helps transform the event from “random Zoom call with people from school” to “this is my graduation party!”

Perhaps it’s a call and response cheer or a particular dance move everyone can do. If everyone is doing something physical, it’ll feel more like you’re sharing this experience together, not just passively observing it.

For a majority of virtual events, participants are muted so people can better hear the person running the chat. This time, refrain from using the mute button. Let people giggle and chatter because this is the kind of party where you want to feel like the group is in the same room.

For students, ask everyone a few questions about their school experience. Questions like:

  • What are some of your favorite moments that defined your educational experience?

  • Who are the people who have defined this experience for you?

  • What is your favorite memory from your time at the school?

  • Are there any particular teachers or administrators you want to give a shout-out to?

  • What was your favorite class?

  • What was your favorite dance or field trip?

  • What will you miss most about being at school?

If you’re a friend or family member celebrating a loved one’s graduation, you can:

  • Talk about how you’ve seen the graduate grow over the past few years.

  • Share one or two moments where you felt that their character really shined through.

  • Recount the graduate’s accomplishments that make you the most proud.

Stick to specific stories and moments. Although older participants might be tempted to offer the graduate with some sage words, avoid giving advice at a ceremony like this. Advice needs to be sought by the person who wants it; it shouldn’t be created in a vacuum by other people. Of course, if the graduate asks for advice, feel free to give it, but only if the graduate is actually asking. Otherwise, just focus on honoring them.

Help the graduate imagine the future they’ll step into. Graduates can ask each other questions like:

  • What have you learned at school that will help you in the years ahead?

  • What’s one conviction from your educational training that you want to bring with you?

  • What do you hope your future holds?

  • What are you looking forward to now that you’ve graduated?

  • Do you see more schooling in your future? Or are you thinking of heading in a different direction?

  • What are your plans for the summer?

Even though this is a joyous celebration, don’t skip over the sad parts. You don’t want to pretend these things also didn’t happen. Create some kind of unified experience that makes everybody feel like they’re part of the ritual. Perhaps everyone could clap, hold up a symbolic object or sing a song. Come up with something that everyone can do that would honor the person or people or events you want to remember.

Light off some sparklers and toss off your cap. Maybe there’s a poem you can read or a meaningful song everyone can sing. If everyone on the video call participates in the merriment, it’ll transcend the distance.

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