Graduation ceremonies going viral

Should commencement be live-streamed?

Over the last five years, Florida International University has been attempting to draw more students and families into its commencement ceremonies via the Web. It began with a simple video stream of the main ceremony, overseen by a technical support staff of one: social media coordinator Betsy Soler.
But this year, Soler gave a battalion of IT and marketing students specific instructions to take FIU commencement viral.

Each interdepartmental ceremony was posted on YouStream, but Soler’s team’s main focus was creating as many free, professional-quality Facebook-, Flickr- and Twitter-ready images as possible. Every student had the opportunity to pose for as many photos as they wished, and all of the photos featured the FIU logo prominently. With nearly 4,300 students walking, the idea generated an enormous boost to FIU’s Facebook presence.

“I wanted to give the graduates something to take home. We offer paid photos, but we wanted to do something free and fun for everybody,” says Soler. “Plus, we liked the idea of having something that our graduates could connect back to us after they graduate.”

Washington and Jefferson College — a small liberal arts school just outside of Pittsburgh — has no intention of making its commencement ceremony more Web-friendly.

While schools around the country are pulling out all the stops to boost flagging commencement participation, W&J’s 100 percent participation rate is holding strong, without going online. In 2012, all 320 graduating students donned the cap and gown. The reason is simple: At W&J, if you don’t walk — live and in person — you don’t graduate.

“We focus on relationships. We build it right from the beginning, so to be there in person is, to us, a very important part of that,” says James M. Sloat, associate dean for assessment and new initiatives. “We’re very intentional about how we bring people into the community, so it’s so important to us that they continue that relationship with us right up to the moment they graduate.”


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