A handful of organizations are virtually holding nationwide commencement ceremonies for college students whose campuses shuttered to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Facebook will livestream a graduation ceremony in mid-May packed with celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey, Jennifer Garner and Simone Biles. And a coalition of leaders of historically black colleges and related industry groups is teaming with Essence, a lifestyle magazine geared toward black women, to host a similar virtual event.
The news comes as scores of U.S. colleges have announced virtual graduations or have pushed back the dates of in-person events.
In a blog post, Facebook executive Marne Levine said the company wanted to celebrate the achievements of college students even though the coronavirus upended their final term.
"This is a bittersweet time for the Class of 2020," she wrote. "As students head toward graduation, it's not the day they might have imagined — no processions, no diploma handoffs, no parties."
Meanwhile, the nationwide ceremony for HBCU graduates will be held on Essence's livestream network and will raise funds for participating colleges and their students. The idea for the event came from Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, in Texas.
"As the result of COVID-19, our students have been robbed of a moment that they and their families have earned," he said in a statement. "I am so grateful that this coalition of partners stepped up to answer the call of the HBCU community and stand in the gap for our students and their families."
Other organizations are holding large virtual events. Her Campus, a website targeting college women, is planning a similar online ceremony for college students with the social media hashtag #ImStillGraduating. Its event will include celebrity appearances from the likes of Eva Longoria, Liam Payne and Jesse McCartney, as well as student speakers.
Students have also sprung into action. A pair of Boston University students are leading an effort to hold a virtual graduation ceremony in Minecraft, a popular computer game that lets users create their own worlds.
More than 1,000 students and 400 audience members have registered for the event. Much like an in-person ceremony, participants will walk across a virtual stage when their name is called, though some features — such as floating lights and fireworks — will take advantage of the virtual location.
"Even though graduation isn't happening on time, there's still a common zeitgeist among the class of 2020 that they all want to celebrate together," senior Warren Partridge, a co-founder of the initiative, told Education Dive last week.
These types of events could be an opportunity for colleges, two executives from speechwriting firm West Wing Writers argued in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed. "Especially in these unsettling times, rituals that provide a sense of meaning and community are more important than ever," they wrote.
Additionally, speakers could include more visuals than a standard ceremony would allow, and colleges could divert the money saved on holding an in-person event to class gifts or to civic initiatives.