What to expect from the second virtual Commencement

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Lillian Bautista | Senior Staff Photographer

Graduates' families, friends and professors are encouraged to record short congratulatory videos for seniors, which will be included in the virtual Commencement ceremony.

For the second year in a row, GW’s seniors won’t be graduating on the National Mall. 

Instead, they’ll sit in front of computers in their own homes to watch their name flash across a screen for a brief moment of recognition. But unlike last year, GW is the only university in the D.C. area that isn’t planning on holding some form of an in-person Commencement ceremony this May. 

With that added sting, it might be hard for seniors to fully enjoy the virtual itinerary administrators have planned for this bicentennial year. 

From themed Zoom backgrounds to what officials promise will be “an exciting, engaging, ‘Only at GW’” virtual Commencement ceremony, here’s what administrators have planned:

College and major-specific virtual celebrations will begin Wednesday, and you can find the full detailed schedule of commencement celebrations on GW’s commencement website. But the main event, a University-wide Commencement celebration, will be held Sunday at 1 p.m.

Administrators chose the 14th Secretary of the Smithsonian, Lonnie G. Bunch III, as the main Commencement speaker. Bunch previously served on GW’s faculty as a professor of museum studies and history from 1990 to 2000 and was also the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bunch will also be given an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, but he has asked to formally receive it when the University is next able to hold an in-person celebration on the National Mall, according to a University release.

Bunch will be joined by former chair of the Board of Trustees Nelson Carbonell, who will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service. Carbonell is an alumnus from the Class of 1985 and served as chair of the Board from 2013 to 2019.

The celebration will be livestreamed on the University’s Commencement website starting at 1 p.m. and will be posted on the website as a video afterwards for students to watch or rewatch on their own time.

Friends, family and professors of the graduates are also encouraged to record short, 15-second videos congratulating seniors on their accomplishments, which will be included throughout the virtual Commencement ceremony.

Seniors and their loved ones can also use the “Watch Together” option that creates a video chat with friends and family to watch the University-wide Commencement celebration as well as school-specific celebrations as if they were gathered together. To use this feature, seniors have to create a “Watch Together” account and generate a code that can be shared with the people they want to watch with. A maximum of six devices including desktops, laptops, tablets and phones are able to log into each video chat room.

Administrators have also created a variety of ready-to-use digital graphics for students to “celebrate anywhere.” These GW- and graduation-themed graphics are available for free download and use and include graphics for yard signs, cake designs, Zoom backgrounds, GIFs, Facebook frames and Instagram lenses. Seniors will also be mailed “celebration boxes,” with GW-branded paraphernalia.

If you happen to be in D.C., you can also expect the main campus to be decorated with photo opportunities for seniors to snap pictures in front of. These photo ops will be up around campus until June 1, according to the FAQ page of the commencement website.

Despite a hard postponement of an in-person Commencement Celebration, administrators maintain that they plan to hold traditional ceremonies on the National Mall for both the classes of 2020 and 2021 individually “when it is safe to do so.”

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