Nominate a virtual speaker, decorate in their school colors, and send congratulatory messages from friends and family.

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college graduate texting on a smart phone
Credit: Kevin Dodge / Getty Images

While many school years across the country, from kindergarten to college, were brought to a screeching halt as the coronavirus spread, classes have transitioned online to keep academia rolling along as best it can. For seniors everywhere, the opportunity to don a cap and gown and stand on the podium in front of their peers and family members marks a major transition in the real world. But if this pandemic has taught us anything, it's that virtual innovation allows us to celebrate all kinds of milestones and holidays: Just this week, Facebook announced it would host a virtual graduation ceremony for college students, with Oprah as its commencement speaker.

For a more personalized experience, we tapped Minted founder and CEO Mariam Naficy to learn how you can host your own virtual celebration. "One silver lining is that with a virtual celebration, you can include faraway friends and family members," says Naficy. 

Send out e-invitations.

While you may not be able to host an in-person ceremony, you can still celebrate your graduate's big accomplishment virtually, inviting friends and family. Make it all about the graduate in your family, or work with the parents of other seniors to put together a virtual party for a big group. "Minted has launched new designs to address the unique circumstances faced by 2020 grads amongst the COVID-19 pandemic—in some cases with wit and humor, and in other cases with enduring gratitude and sentiment," says Naficy. She also notes that there's no need for a professional photograph. Rather, opt for a casual snapshot for the invitation. "Use the back to share a personal message, academic stats, or updates on a new chapter. We also sell custom stamps to save a trip to the post office. You can include a link to the virtual party on an insert card in the graduation announcement."

If you prefer something more informal, Minted also offers new online invitation designs specific to virtual graduation parties. "These are free, offer a rich cinematic experience for guests, and can be personalized with photos."  

Think creatively on decorations and gifts.

While there's no replacing the greatness of an in-person gathering, the next best thing is celebratory virtual backgrounds. As a response to the pandemic, Minted has launched free celebratory virtual backgrounds with designs from independent artists. "Create a festive atmosphere at the grad's home with party décor and balloons in their school colors," suggests Naficy. "This is also the perfect time to present a thoughtful gift. Celebrate your graduate with a personalized framed photo print to commemorate their experience and accomplishments."

Make sure you have the right tools, and plan a practice run.

Just like the real deal, a virtual graduation will benefit from practice. On the big day, you'll want things to go as seamless as possible for the graduate. Naficy suggests choosing a video conferencing software that's easy for guests to use and minimizes the chance of glitches. "The party host should plan a practice run to familiarize themselves with the video conference platform and any other special elements," says Naficy. Make sure you know how to mute and unmute attendees, upload a virtual background, and present or share your screen.

"Encourage guests to join the party a few minutes beforehand so that you can help sort out any technical issues, especially for those who may not be not accustomed to video conferencing. This also provides the opportunity for small talk before the official program begins," advises Naficy. As the virtual dress code, encourage everyone to "don festive attire," as she recommends. "If the grad's school is not sending home caps and gowns, you may want to order a mortarboard online."

Nominate a virtual guest speaker.

While Oprah may not be available, that doesn't mean you can't surprise your grad with an inspiring individual to speak words of wisdom and encouragement for their very own virtual graduation ceremony. "Nominate someone to emcee the gathering and encourage guests to exercise proper virtual etiquette by muting their devices when not talking," says Naficy. "Incorporate a speech by a special guest, such as a mentor, or invite all attendees to think of a special memory with the graduate and share one by one."

End on a high note.

Your grad will miss the hugs, the hollers, and the sky full of flying caps that are synonymous with graduation ceremonies. So, while they can't blend into a sea of students, they can have their own moment to shine that's truly personalized. "You can incorporate a slideshow with pictures of the graduate over the years, or compile a video with congratulatory messages from teachers, friends, and other important people in the grad’s life," suggests Naficy. "End on a high note with a fun game, such as trivia about the graduate."

Remember to do this after the event.

"Encourage grads to thank the ones that helped them get this far, from parents to friends to teachers to mentors. Especially in a year when they cannot be with extended family, friends and teachers to close out the experience in person," says Naficy.

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