ITS helps bring the pomp and circumstance to virtual graduation

Iowa State University’s fall 2020 graduation ceremony, while still marking a monumental achievement for nearly 2,600 student Cyclones, will be held virtually on Saturday, November 28 at 10 a.m. Graduates and celebrants are invited to attend the live-streamed virtual ceremony via the university’s virtual graduation website as well as other convocation events hosted by the various colleges.

To ensure students have the best possible finale to their Iowa State adventure amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many university departments including Information Technology Services (ITS) and their web development team have been working tirelessly to film, record, splice and assemble the many digital elements that will make up graduation 2020.

The team is also working with an accelerated timeline, as graduation will be celebrated in November rather than December. The semester began earlier than usual and will conclude November 25, nearly three weeks earlier than originally planned. Still, students attended the standard 16 weeks of classes in a variety of learning modes including in-person, online and hybrid. 

Compared to the spring 2020 virtual graduation ceremony, the fall event will be smaller in scale, but perhaps more personal. ITS teams involved in the spring ceremony had just eight weeks to move graduation online, yet still managed to assemble a presentation that displayed all graduates’ names on a slowly rotating selection of slides. With more preparation time this fall, the presentation will include slides customized by each graduate, displaying a photo of their choice as well as their name, hometown, degrees and majors and any distinctions received.

The process of assembling the many custom slides and ceremony elements, a responsibility of the ITS audiovisual experience team (AVXT), involves meticulous video and audio editing. In fact, AVXT member Spencer Braly has been weaving together the virtual video elements since the start of the semester to honor 2,136 undergraduates and 482 graduate students.

While each slide has to be placed into the ceremony presentation one by one requiring hundreds of work-hours, Braly commented on the outcome: “The work is rewarding, because I know I’m helping to capture a great moment for these students.” 

The virtual ceremony’s emcees, Michael Martin and Hollis Monroe, who are responsible for reciting graduates' names, also rehearsed hours on end, so the ceremony remains a first-rate event.

Michael Martin rehearsing graduation ceremony

Jeff Sorensen, ITS software development manager, also describes the editing process as enlightening in some ways and challenging in others.

“Working on the virtual graduation ceremony has been a great learning experience,” Sorensen said. “It has been a nice change of subject matter from the usual work that we do, which is more business logic web applications.”

Another area of adaptation has been the delivery of students’ caps, gowns and diplomas. The standard dress code of cap and gown does not apply to graduates attending the virtual, live-streamed ceremony, but those items are available to order through the bookstore for commemorative purposes.

Additionally, university administration recognized the importance of providing graduating Cyclones with commemorative gifts to honor their achievement. As a result, graduating students have been provided with “CYlebration Gifts” that can be picked up at the Office of the Registrar, located at 214 Enrollment Services Center, Monday through Friday during business hours. These gifts include the students’ diploma cover, streamer tube, souvenir tassel, commencement program and honors cords if applicable.

As for diplomas, graduates will receive their diplomas via mail after January 15. To ensure diplomas reach their intended destination, graduating students are instructed to complete the Diploma Mailing Address Information form in AccessPlus before December 11.

Graduates can also celebrate with online graduation parties, and organizing a videochat on Webex, Skype or Zoom is a great way to mark the occasion with family and friends. To keep the event lively, consider having attendees guess some of your favorite college things, like your favorite instructor, favorite Cyclones sports moment and more. You can also guide friends and family on a virtual campus tour. Check out more ideas for hosting a virtual graduation party here!

This year’s ceremony will undoubtedly look different from years past, but with careful planning and adaptations, ITS and many teams across campus are making it a day to remember for winter graduates.