- Message from the President
- COVID-19 Financial Reflection
- Conference 2021: Creating Impactful Moments in a Changing World
- Regional Meetings
- Reflections of 2020/2021 Looking Forward
- The ABCs of Commencement in 2021
- Lemons Into Lemonade: How Full Measure Education and Eastern Michigan University Partnered to Celebrate the Class of 2020
- Update from NAACO Headquarters
- Upcoming Meetings
- Thank You To Our Sponsors
With the simple turning of a calendar page, we move beyond reflection of the past year and look to the possibilities and promises of the current one. It will not be without its challenges, but we are all better prepared to face and overcome them. The NAACO Annual Conference, at the very least, can assist you as you move forward with preparations for this year’s commencement and convocation seasons.
Our volunteer conference committee, led by Lisa Arakaki and assisted by our headquarters team, is working diligently to create an experience that is as impactful as it has been in the past, while delivering it in a manner that is consistent with our changing world. No doubt, we would all agree that it is not an easy task, but certainly one that our dedicated and experienced committee will succeed at.
Conference attendees will have the opportunity to hear from member and industry experts and must-see keynote speakers. Networking opportunities will be provided to allow you time to meet with colleagues within your region, as well as those across North America. The full schedule is available online so that you may plan ahead on what sessions you want to attend. If you are joining the conference with others from your institution, now is a great time to create a “divide and conquer” strategy to get the very most out of the experience and take in as many sessions as possible.
We are again thankful for the support of our corporate sponsors. Beyond the services and products they offer, they are an incredible resource given the vast experience they have garnered from the thousands of ceremonies they have seen over the years. I encourage all to take just a moment to check in with each of them in the conference Corporate Showcase. I expect they too have learned much since last spring and are eager and happy to share with you.
For those who are unable to join this year’s conference, please remember that NAACO is always here to support you in your ceremony planning and other endeavors.
With sincere wishes for a safe, healthy, and successful new year,
President, NAACO Board of Directors
Director of Academic Ceremonies, Northeastern University, Boston
2020 was a year like no other! On March 12, 2020, I was not thinking about convocation as I sat on the beach enjoying the sun when a “bing” on my phone from the Canadian government changed everything. That text indicated to “Return to home by March 22. Canada is going into lockdown and you must return from international travel!” COVID-19 had established itself across Canada.
By the time I returned home, the university was shutting down and all classes were going online. Many people in our community did not expect this to last long. They thought we would quarantine for a couple weeks, work from home a few more, and life would return to normal. 46 weeks later and in the midst of the second wave, it seems as if work from home and virtual everything might be the new normal for a while yet.
When I think back to March 2020, with convocation only two months away, it is hard to believe how quickly we adapted to a new work from home schedule, social distancing, and the virtual meeting environment. As we began to gather our teams together and started considering alternate convocation guidelines and procedure changes, an important question emerged, “What will we do with our 3,500 students who want to cross the stage this year?” We knew our students had worked so hard for this and they deserved to cross—we didn`t want anyone to miss out on the convocation experience. However, gatherings were now restricted, and stay-at-home orders were now in place. As time passed and more limits were set, we realized we would have to reimagine our traditional convocation ceremony—a day of fun, happiness, relief, and celebration.
One of the first questions we asked was “What are other universities doing?” It was very helpful that NAACO collected information we could use to help answer this question. We were able to borrow some great ideas from other places, however, at times, it seemed like some institutions had endless funds and technical resources to change their mode of delivery. We did not.
As we gathered feedback from our stakeholders, it was clear expectations were high and very diverse. History, protocol, and tradition seemed at times to clash with adaptive mediums, students and parent expectations, speeches, guidelines, privacy concerns, budget transformation, timelines, and communications. Difficult choices needed to be made. What can we do and what can we afford? There was no doubt we would need to create a new and unique convocation experience.
After a realigned budget and resources, we used our means to create a unique and memorable convocation package and a virtual experience for our graduates.
Our convocation package provided specially designed and branded courier envelopes that contained student parchment, a commemorative printed program listing all graduates, congratulatory letters from our chancellor and president, and university memorabilia. These were sent by postal mail to our graduates all around the world.
On a shoestring budget and a tight timeline, we also produced a virtual convocation video that was aired by our local television channel for students, families, and community members. The video included congratulatory messages from the chancellor and president, as well as a memorable message from our lieutenant governor delivered in English and Cree. Our convocation video also included an honour song presented by local indigenous singers and drummers. Separately, on our convocation website, we featured videos created by all our deans and federated college presidents who shared their own, self-recorded video messages with graduates. Each leader was able to produce an inexpensive, yet sincere message from their home office or backyard setting to send a message from the heart to each student.
Our cost-effective virtual celebration swag was a huge hit with students and family members. We included photo backgrounds featuring university landmarks, social media filters, proud parent photos, unique frames, and print signs (that students and families could display at home, on their windows and lawns). And a student populated alumni engagement online yearbook created the opportunity for students to reconnect with their fellow new graduates.
Although many elements of our reimagined convocation experience were very different from our traditional ceremony, we were able to find creative and inexpensive ways to recognize our graduates and their achievements despite the limitations forced onto us by the pandemic.
As we have now concluded two virtual convocations, it has become apparent to us that even with limited resources, you can provide graduates with an amazing experience. The key is to stay focused on the student experience and the celebration, that’s what they remember.
The thing I love most about being a member of NAACO is the opportunity to learn from other members, share ideas, and discover creative new initiatives and technologies that universities are implementing. Typically, I have only attended the national conference—side note: if you have never attended a NAACO conference, or you have not been in a few years, I highly recommend registering this year for the virtual conference! Recently my team and I saw an email from NAACO advertising a virtual regional meeting being held and jumped at the opportunity to join. Did you know you could attend a regional meeting even if you are not a part of that particular region? I sure didn’t!
Typically, regional meetings are held at a host university within that region. In years past, my team and I have not been able to attend due to travel or timing, but since most events these days are held virtually, we were able to attend the Northeast Regional meeting in November, and I am so glad we did. These regional meetings are much like a mini conference, with keynote speakers, break-out sessions, and time to collaborate with fellow commencement colleagues. This particular event focused on what’s next for commencement celebrations, as well as innovative alternate ways to celebrate our graduates. This is something that we always need, but in this time of a global pandemic it’s helpful to learn how other universities are dealing with the same things we are dealing with and how we might be able to implement some of these ideas into our plans for 2021 celebrations.
So, what are you waiting for? Be on the lookout for more regional meetings coming your way!
The NAACO 2021 Annual Conference will commence on February 22, 2021. This year’s conference is appropriately titled “Creating Impactful Moments in a Changing World,” as we moved to a fully virtual experience due to the continuing impacts of COVID. Many of us had to pivot in 2020 to ensure the safety of our faculty, staff, students, and all those involved in our ceremonies and 2021 is proving to be no different, at least for the time being. Rest assured that NAACO has four days of sharing lessons learned in 2020, new ideas, and supportive conversations that will help you create impactful events in our ever changing world.
Over the past 10+ months, NAACO has seen a significant increase in virtual engagement opportunities from Hot Topic Calls to Regional Meetings. Your board of directors, along with the 2021 Conference Committee, plan to use this momentum to create a meaningful and robust virtual conference experience. The 2021 Conference Committee is being led by Lisa Arakaki, Director of Special Events at American University. The Conference Committee has been meeting frequently to shift our previous in-person format to a virtual platform called Pathable. We will host virtual educational sessions, games, keynote speakers, etc., all from this platform.
This year the conference will be scheduled differently to ensure that we keep you engaged as we learn from afar. In previous years we’ve hosted the New to NAACO Breakfast for first time attendees to help them become more familiar with the organization. In 2021, we will have a New to NAACO Pre-Conference program on February 17 that will consist of pre-conference cohorts. This session is for anyone who is new to NAACO and for members who elected to participate in the Conference Cohort during registration. In addition, the conference schedule varies daily and only spans about four hours each day. We hope this schedule will provide participants with the opportunity to attend the conference and stay on top of your everyday responsibilities.
The conference’s four days will feature concurrent educational sessions; thought-provoking keynotes, panels, and showcases; commercial corners with our sponsors; and valuable networking opportunities. Check out the detailed schedule on our website! Early registration is in process and ends on January 22.
We hope you are able to join us for our inaugural virtual conference and what is sure to be an exciting week.
“There are exciting possibilities of ‘what could be’ if we can let go of ‘what used to be.”
“Everyone has inside them a piece of good news. The good news is you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is.”
The past year has brought the fear of the unknown and the feeling of isolation. We found ourselves changing the entire ceremony planning process and not having our coworkers down the hall to vent to or share quick ideas with. With panic I quickly realized, I didn’t want students to feel that same disconnect from our university and that same fear and isolation when celebrating their special day and the cumulative years of hard work.
The global pandemic has had a positive impact too. It has allowed many of us to be pushed out of our comfort zones into uncharted territory, just to grow and succeed in ways we may have never before. Some of us were able to see the good in humanity for the first time and others were able to recognize the worst of it and how to learn from it.
We as commencement officers have transformed this industry and all traditional celebratory events. We look towards the future of the ceremonies and are also reminded that this transformation has brought opportunities, especially for our online graduates. Processes were changed to make services accessible to all students. You have accomplished great things this past year, and I hope you take some time to reflect on all the amazing things you have done, possibly for the first time ever, at your institution.
While recovering from the mental and physical effects of COVID-19, I thought about the year ahead.
There is great hope in store for us all, full of healing, renewal, and the chance for continued growth. As commencement officers we hold on to the hope that this pandemic will end soon. We will continue to explore every idea, and then wisely implement the ones that are best for our universities and graduates. We will continue to strive to honor our graduates in the very best way that we can, while taking these learned experiences and using them to thrive in an ever-changing world moving forward.
“A wise person listens carefully to the ideas of others. An even wiser person explores these ideas. But the wisest of persons will use discretion when choosing which ones to enact.”
Thank you to our colleagues of NAACO for sharing the quotes that we used in this article.
We are all commencement coordinators, and, in some form or fashion, our personal and professional worlds have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the tasks we completed in a “regular” year to prepare for our ceremonies, say 2019 (can you remember back that far?), became irrelevant in 2020 when our worlds shifted. Now that we are in the planning stages for 2021, I wanted to share some humor along with a gentle reminder that we are not alone in the tasks we undertake each year. While our circumstances may be different based on the location of the institution or the size of the graduating class, our goals are very likely aligned no matter which NAACO colleague we are talking to.
If you had to list a few words that feel significant to you as a commencement coordinator right now, which words come to mind? As a quick way to remember this time in my life, I wanted to create a list that I could print out and slip into my scrapbook. What better format to use than an alphabetical list?! After all, my brain does some of its best work when working in a specific order and I’m willing to guess that yours does too. Take some time to think about the words that stand out to you right now and jot them down.
Here is my version of the ABCs of Commencement in 2021:
A – Advocating for our ceremonies…We are experts, and we want to make it right!
B – Breaking the mold…What have we “always done” but can now toss out?
C – Class of 2020…What do we do for them?!
D – Deserving…Our graduates deserve a ceremony, but what can it look like?
E – Ever-evolving
F – For the love of _____…I wish I could vent from the rooftops on some days!
G – Global pandemic
H – Honorary degrees…To award virtually or postpone to 2022? Plus, the rollovers from 2020…
I – Innovation
J – Joy…Seeking it out even when things feel bleak.
K – Keeping up formal traditions of your institution’s ceremonies.
L – Large groups (not a good idea!)
M – Meta-decisions…My brain is exhausted! Do you feel this way, too?
N – NAACO…Lean on your colleagues!
O – Opportunity to learn what is actually important to your graduates via focus groups.
P – Physically distant seating plans
Q – Questions from parents! Coming soon to an inbox near you…
R – Regalia…They still want it for personal photos or videos!
S – “Subject to Change” (with or without much warning!)
T – Travel bans…Who can even get to our ceremonies?
U – United in the unknown
V – Vaccines
W – Wellness…You have to take care of yourself so that you can take good care of others.
X – X it out and start again when the restrictions change…or your president changes their mind!
Y – Yes…What can we say “yes” to right now? How can we keep a positive mood amongst our graduates?
Z – Zoom ceremonies?! Watch out for “Zoom Bombers!”
I would encourage you to create your own list and share with your office colleagues and with all of us on the NAACO Forum! Did your list include the word “pivot”?! I’m willing to guess that it came to mind even if you didn’t write it down! Perhaps you’d like to create a list that you can’t share with anyone else?! Don’t forget to laugh as often as you can. Know that I believe in your skills and your desire to do right by your graduates. We can do this!
Fred Mainville, Eastern Michigan University Class of 2020, has worked in the IT field for 25 years and lives with his wife of 32 years, LaRae, in a small Michigan town. In 2014, Fred decided to finish his undergraduate degree, a promise he made to himself when he dropped out of Northern Michigan University in 1985 and decided to go to the Specs Howard school to train for work in radio.
“Through six years of six-credit semesters while working 50 hours a week and keeping a family going, I finally made it to the end after waiting for over 35 years to walk across the stage,” Fred wrote to Dr. Smith, president of Eastern Michigan University (EMU), several days after his scheduled graduation.
“Then this virus comes along and postpones my big day. While I understand why and it all makes total sense, it still hurts. When I woke up on Saturday morning, I was really down—what was supposed to be one of the best days of my life was not going to happen.”
Due to the health crisis, EMU was not holding its regular grand graduation ceremony in the Convocation Center. But the notion that he couldn’t complete his academic odyssey with a triumphant walk on the stage and his name announced still tugged at his heart.
Then, at 10 am on his graduation day, he received a text from EMU congratulating him on his accomplishment.
“[The text message] took me to a video that was all well wishes for myself and the rest of the Class of 2020, including from my two daughters, both Eastern graduates,” Fred said in his email thanking the university.
On the EMU virtual graduation platform, he used the augmented reality filters that enabled him to take a picture wearing a virtual graduation mortar board as he sported an EMU shirt.
“I posted it on my Facebook, and so much more love came at me from my family and friends,” Fred wrote. “You have no idea how much this lifted my spirits and really turned my day around.”
The text message and mobile platform to which Fred refers was hosted by Full Measure Education, a higher ed tech company based in Washington, D.C. Full Measure works with colleges and universities to support and celebrate students in pivotal moments in the student journey, including commencement. Full Measure’s Graduation Celebration Experience (GCE) helped more than 50 institutions give their Class of 2020 the pomp and circumstance they deserved.
The GCE allows schools to recognize their graduates—whether in-person or online—with shareable social media filters (virtual cap, anyone?), video ceremonies (with name reading), and customized, engaging content. Using mobile messaging and a progressive web application (meaning no app download or coding required), Full Measure provides the platform for colleges and universities to host recorded video content, engage with their newest alumni, and offer graduates the chance to share the moment with their—and their school’s—entire community.
On that same day, EMU celebrated 1,703 graduates. And while physically they were distanced, socially they were together. The social content from EMU’s Graduation Celebration Experience generated 70,954 social impressions. Grads shared the social media filters over 1,200 times, and the virtual ceremony video was viewed more than 3,500 times. The EMU Class of 2020 earned this moment; EMU (and Full Measure Education) made the day count.
Fred ends his letter to President Smith: “As a member of the Class of 2020, I want to personally thank you…for making my graduation day so memorable…EMU definitely took lemons and made lemonade.”
How will we celebrate the class of 2021? Who knows! So let’s be prepared for everything. Visit fullmeasure.io to learn more about the Graduation Celebration Experience for both in-person and virtual ceremonies.
Or, join one of the webinars on the Future of Graduation at bit.ly/fullmeasuregrad.
About Full Measure Education
Using mobile-first technology and curated experiences, Full Measure Education enables colleges, universities, and schools to guide, support, and celebrate students through the student lifecycle. From admission to enrollment to graduation, the Full Measure platform turns pivotal moments into opportunities for deeper, more meaningful engagement. In 2020, in collaboration with over 300 partner institutions, Full Measure celebrated 35,000 graduates and 275,000 newly admitted students—with over 5 million moments of social and mobile engagement.
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves nearly 18,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral, and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences, and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors, and concentrations are delivered through the university’s Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education.
As we begin to ramp up for the upcoming virtual conference, I would like to extend a profound thank you to all of NAACO’s volunteers who have helped make the last few months possible. Working on a transition during the pandemic has not been without its challenges, but thanks to NAACO’s incredible volunteer leadership, we are currently positioned to have an incredible online event. If you have not yet registered, I encourage you to do so here. Also, thanks to the help of the regional directors on the Membership Committee we are seeing a higher-than-expected renewal rate for the year.
While it has been a challenging year, it has given NAACO an opportunity to shine, and online participation from members is at an all-time high. We are starting to see some hope on the horizon regarding future in-person meetings. With the vaccine beginning to roll out, volunteer leadership is starting to envision how the world will look when we can meet together once again. It truly is an exciting time to be a part of NAACO, and I can’t wait to see what the next few months have in store.
Sara L. Wood, MBA, CAE, NAACO Executive Director