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Like many things we may have taken for granted in the past, high school graduation ceremonies were completely disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic this year. On Friday, May 8, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz made what he called a “painful” decision to ban large-scale graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus. That day signaled a huge turning point for us at Captivate Media for the next few months.

Our company was founded on serving PK-12 students and helping schools communicate effectively. Suddenly, every school district in the state – and most across the country – faced the same problem at the same time. We led several webinars to help schools better understand what the elements of a successful graduation ceremony should look like from through a content and technical lens.

Ultimately, Captivate Media partnered with 55 high schools in four states and two countries to create customized online graduation experiences this spring. These videos honored a total of 16,852 students from the class of 2020.

Early on, we decided it was best not to livestream ceremonies, but rather produced high-quality videos that premiered at a specific date and time that students, their families and school communities could all watch simultaneously and experience together (albeit from different locations). This assured that our school partners could avoid any technical difficulties that may come from live-streaming so the ceremonies were as perfect as possible and memorable for the right reasons.

The graduation videos we produced weaved in customary aspects of graduation such as speeches and the tossing of caps with unique elements like photos and videos featuring graduates sharing their memories. The videos also created opportunities to engage students and their families as they watched the video simultaneously from home, like using a hashtag to share photos in real time or participating in the cap toss.

Students joined in the process to make the videos reflective of their school experience. One of the most positive outcomes of these online ceremonies was that they were some of the most inclusive graduations that I’ve ever seen. Through video, we were able to feature more students than are typically featured in traditional in-person ceremonies, and it made the celebrations feel even more personalized to each class.

It truly felt like it was our calling as a company to do what we could to help school districts during this unprecedented school year. We are honored that we were able to produce online graduation ceremonies across the metro and beyond, from Richfield to Wayzata, Blue Earth to White Bear Lake, St. Cloud to Jordan – and even one in Budapest. My team worked tirelessly to produce outstanding work – all while navigating working remotely – and I’m so thankful for their dedication during this crazy time.

My heart goes out to this year’s senior class. High school graduation is a huge life milestone and they had it abruptly taken away. For most students, this online event was their final high school experience and our goal was to make sure it was as special and memorable as the occasion deserves. I hope these videos will be cherished for generations to come, by the students as they remember their senior year and the schools and communities as they look back at the incredible class of 2020.

-Jake Sturgis


Learn more about online graduations