Getting Ready for Graduation

The culminating representation of many years of hard work, exploration, change, and perseverance, graduation is a pivotal moment for grads and their friends and families, one they anticipate all year long. There are high expectations for everyone involved! 

It’s also one of the most overwhelming and time-consuming parts of the academic year for the campus pros involved in planning it. We put together some tips to help make graduation as special as possible while recognizing that many of your teams are resource-challenged (budget-wise, time-wise, and staffing-wise). 

Graduation: Where Audiences Converge

There are few moments in the academic calendar where just about every audience has its eyes on your campus—but graduation is one of them! You can leverage graduation season to both hear from and connect with a range of audiences—celebrating students graduating and their career outcomes (which supports recruitment messaging!), building relationships with those students to lay the foundation for an advancement strategy, engaging with the families celebrating their students, and connecting through nostalgia and tradition with long-time grads.

Graduation is a converging point for your audiences and an opportunity to: 

  • Maintain a positive connection and impression with your graduating students to build affinity with them as they become young alumni.
  • Highlight graduating students who are about to become young alumni with your prospective student and family audience to support outcomes messaging. This shows “here’s what you can achieve as a <<Campus Name>> grad.” It brings those possibilities to life through the real experiences of recent grads.  
  • Give current students something to look forward to when they’re seniors.
  • Get parents and family members involved in the celebration. 
  • Invoke nostalgia in your alumni. Nostalgia was a top theme in alumni earned conversation in our most recent industry-wide Social Listening for Alumni Insights report. Use their emotion, nostalgia, and reflection of the season to create greater affinity with your campus and brand.

Leverage Your Brand Experience Leading Up to Graduation

There are so many high touch, high impact but low cost ways you can engage these audiences leading up to and during graduation season. 

Top 10 things to do before you graduate listicle: Consider crafting and publishing a top 10 things to do before graduation listicle at least a month before the event to give audiences time to engage and participate. This content is a way to encourage grads to reflect on their time at your campus, generate nostalgia and connection with friends, and make the most of their final weeks on campus. 

  • Root your ideas in tradition. 
  • What are those favorite things students like to do together? It could be as simple as a favorite outdoor spot to hang out or visiting a local coffee shop. 
  • Visit your residence hall where you lived as a first-year student.
  • Say goodbye to your favorite professor.
  • Attend a favorite campus event.
  • Join your local alumni association chapter. 

Once your list is drafted, share it! Add it to your website and link to it through email and social media. You could create a slideshow of Instagram photos for an in-feed post, an Instagram Stories series, or Twitter threads. Then encourage the graduating students to post photos and videos doing those things on social, which is a prime opportunity for curating content.

From a content repurposing standpoint, you could even revamp and reframe this list for your incoming students to generate excitement leading up to orientation, welcome week, or the first day of classes: “Top 10 Things To Do as a <<Mascot>>.” 

On-campus activities, programming, and events: Incorporate some simple programming you can offer to graduating students to help them make lasting memories and ease the stress that comes with days and weeks leading up to graduation. It’s an emotional, pressure-laden time as grads navigate final exams, job searches, making memories for the last time, and the uncertainty that surrounds big changes ahead. 

  • Photo ops with grad gear in strategic places on campus.
  • Grad cap decorating. Encourage the seniors to bring their mortar boards, and you’ll provide the crafting supplies—paint, permanent markers, beads, glitter glue, flowers, bedazzling tools, the works. (Pro tip: Your campus team likely has crafting supplies stockpiled for residence hall events, or check with your on-campus craft center.) 
  • Thank you note stations to write to professors, advisors, family, and friends. This is another way to introduce fun collateral like branded stationary, colorful gel pens, or stickers. 
  • “Class of” group signatures (e.g., banners, flags, signs). 

To support additional content creation, you could photograph the events and grab informal video interviews during these activities to capture “person on the street”-style, in-the-moment reflection videos. Ask: ”What will you miss the most about <<Campus Name>>? What are you looking forward to the most after graduation? What’s up next for you? Who would you like to thank and why?” 

Leading Up to the Big Day

Plan Your Content

Plan your content! Start identifying those grads to highlight now. (It’s really never too early to brainstorm those lists.) Who can you team up with on campus to collaborate on this identification? Academic advisors, faculty, and department chairs often have this insider knowledge and can help narrow down the list or cut down on time doing pre-interviews. Have a few of those compelling stories (and, with approval, the individuals’ contact information) ready to go for timely media requests.   

A core graduation storytelling opportunity is a “meet the grads”-style feature. These serve so many purposes. They celebrate grads’ achievements and recognize their contributions, which becomes outcomes messaging for your admissions audiences. They’re also initial ideas for future alumni you can target in your development and advancement strategies. Once you have those stories developed, repurpose, repurpose, repurpose! They may live natively on your website, but then map out all the ways to share them: longer form videos on YouTube or Facebook, short clips on Instagram Stories or TikTok, photo collages or profiles for in-feed posts, or quotes in Twitter threads. 

With this owned content in place, don’t forget to consider user-generated content, too. A question box on Instagram can encourage replies from both your graduating students or alumni. (This could also live in an upcoming alumni e-newsletter to reach a broader audience, too!) Ask: 

  • For alumni and seniors: What are your favorite memories from your time as an Explorer?
  • For alumni: If you could relive one moment, what would it be?
  • For alumni: What advice would you give to the class of 2023?
  • For seniors: What advice would you give to incoming first-year students?

These answers could be repurposed via web collage, Insta stories, Twitter threads, a video message for the class of 2023 (shared via social, YouTube, website, email), etc. You could even use it later to inspire future content ideas to target current or prospective students!

Get your faculty involved, too. This is an emotional time for them as well. They’re experiencing the inherent change that comes with transitions in the academic calendar, but also preparing to say goodbye to another cohort of students. Consider faculty and staff video or quote messages to the graduating class. You could even create an ecard with a short video that’s shared on social and emailed to the class in the days leading up to or immediately following graduation. 

Take Time to Listen

In the weeks leading up to graduation, your plans are in full force! Dedicate time each day to monitor your earned conversation through social listening. Many of our partners choose alumni as part of their conversation segments. We make it easy with dedicated dashboard tabs to see both earned conversation and alumni conversation, which supports quick reviews to see how your audiences discuss the final days of the semester and celebrate graduation. This segmentation allows you to observe all the ways your audience engages with the content and programming you’ve planned for them, presenting opportunities to continue the conversation, curate content from their posts, and identify influencers. Watch for opportunities to celebrate alongside your grads and answer any questions they may have about commencement.

Stay in the Moment

During the event, stay in the moment! Watch for opportunities to capture emotion and celebrate with your grads. This event happens every year for the individuals planning it, so it's easy to get lost in the hecticness of just getting the job done! Don't forget the why. This day only happens once for those experiencing it. Seek to capture multimedia reflecting the organic emotions of the day: group celebrations, hugs, creative grad caps, pets, photos of photos, and, of course, iconic moments like tossing mortar boards and singing the alma mater or school song.  

Practice Self Care

Speaking of those stressful days, take time for you, too. Easier said than done, but find time to momentarily step away from herds of people, get some fresh air, put down the phone or camera, and just breathe. 

Don't forget the basics. When I worked graduation during my time on campus, I always made sure to wear comfy shoes and carry a lightweight, crossbody bag with all the essentials: phone charger, pen/paper, business cards, tissues, hand sanitizer, hand lotion, lip balm, water, and healthy snacks. That may sound rudimentary, but when you have a weekend full of all-day events, this is critical! After the events are over, block off time for you. You deserve a break! 


Don’t miss a chance to regroup as a team and assess your efforts. Content plans, brand experience, event planning, social media strategy—it all matters. Debrief on what worked well, missed opportunities, and ideas for next year. 

Get Cutting Edge Insights

Industry trends empower you to analyze your campus’s online conversation behavior against a comparable sample. And they help you move beyond vanity metrics. Keep up with current higher ed trends and opportunities with our May webinar. 

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