The COVID-19 pandemic may have postponed commencement ceremonies for the Class of 2020, but California State University, Dominguez Hills (CSUDH) still found a way to celebrate its graduates with a week-long Virtual Graduation Celebration.
Given the task of quickly creating a series of online and virtual events to celebrate Toro grads, several departments teamed up and got to work. The effort was led by the CSUDH Office of Ceremonies and Events, with staff from the Office of Student Life (OSL), communications, alumni, the Academic Affairs Division, and DHTV all pitching in.
“None of us had ever done anything like this before,” says Marilyn McPoland, director of Ceremonies and Events. “We spent countless hours in Zoom meetings trying to figure it all out.” The group eventually put together a full week of activities and celebrations, including everything from video dance-offs and photo tributes, to games and Toro Tuesday messages from local, national, and student leaders.
“One thing we all agreed on was that a lot of talking heads wasn’t going to work virtually,” says McPoland. “We wanted to do more engaging, fun activities. Having never done this before, we tried to put ourselves in the students’ place. We wanted to post things that would make them feel good while also acknowledging the importance of the moment.”
Everyone involved was happy to contribute to the project, knowing what so many students have gone through to reach this point. “I really appreciated how everyone came together so quickly and worked so hard to do this for the students,” says McPoland.
“This is an important milestone,” says Arantza Pelayo of Ceremonies and Events, who headed up the social media aspects of the project. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for our graduates. It’s very meaningful, especially because a lot of our students are first-generation college graduates.”
The most popular event was the “Don’t Rush” video created by members of CSUDH President Thomas A. Parham’s cabinet, featuring campus big-wigs dancing their way into their commencement regalia. “That video alone got over 6,000 views,” says Pelayo.
OSL put together an online Senior Social, which allowed graduates to come together virtually to discuss their college experience. “It was the only live event we staged,” says Anna Liza Garcia, assistant dean of students. “We really wanted the students to realize it was all about them.”
“We broke the grads out into small groups,” says Garcia. “They had conversations about what they were most proud of, what lessons did they take away, what memories. . . It was really heartwarming to hear them tell their stories.”
OSL also facilitated a version of the Senior Social where graduates could post their thoughts to share with the community, touching on everything from their proudest achievements to advice for incoming Toros. Their comments will remain posted on the Senior Social website.
The virtual celebrations were not intended to serve as a replacement for traditional commencement, where graduates can revel in their accomplishments with a community of family and friends. The CSUDH Class of 2020 will still have their day in the sun, as a “normal” commencement ceremony will be held when it becomes possible.
Pelayo adds, “Of course, (our virtual celebration) is not in any way what we wanted and hoped to see happen with this week’s commencement, but given the circumstances, acknowledging our graduates and making sure they were represented was really important.”
To view all the video messages and collages of graduates, visit the Youtube/CSUDHTV Grad Celebration Week Playlist.