Rethinking graduation

It’s that time of year again… If you hear “Pomp & Circumstance” playing, you know you’re in the right place, and you also know you’re about to witness a pre-electrification (never mind pre-digital) event.

Who’s it for?
What’s it for?

I fear that tradition has gotten in the way of design thinking.

When we ask those two questions, great opportunities arrive.

A prime audience for graduation is the graduates. And what do they want? A moment in the spotlight. Official recognition. Digital media to prove it. Speed. Humor. Connection.

At the same time, expanding the amount of time spent parading each student on the stage for a photo and a handshake undermines most of that, and it alienates or numbs everyone else.

Consider: we have screens now. Our graduates believe in speed, screens and being seen.

I’d do the following things, simultaneously:

1. Instead of one team of two doing the handshake and photo dance, have three teams. I don’t think a student cares if it’s a dean or an associate dean (or even a department chair) who shakes their hand. With three processions at a time instead of one, we go from six people a minute to 20. That means, even if you change nothing else, you’ve cut the time by two-thirds.

Reading the names more quickly is easy if you have three people doing the reading instead of one. Read them with care, and respect, and honor them, but that’s no reason to dillydally.

2. You could add extra cameras and have all the photos instantly posted to Flickr or Instagram. This means that the pictures would be shared immediately and with more power.

3. But the real win is in using the iMax video displays. In the month before graduation, each student comes to an office at the school (you can have multiple offices that do this) and records themselves saying their name. Now, we have a video of their face, with their name in bold type below, saying their name with pride. Edited tightly, this would permit a fun, energetic video with each student in it. You could cut in, every few minutes, some singing groups, a on-campus charity event, etc. While the videos are rolling, when a student’s name comes up, she marches across the stage.


And it would look great.



I think the students would take even more pride in that sort of celebration. We would eliminate almost all the last minute worries (if someone doesn’t march when their picture is up top, that’s okay).

Graduation is a milestone. We should make it feel like one again.