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15 ways to still celebrate 2020 graduation with friends and family


When you finish high school, college, or grad school, the main reward—other than the knowledge that you are done, at least until the next round of school—is getting together with classmates, friends, and family members and taking a grand processional to collect that long-awaited diploma. The class of 2020 will still get a diploma, but typical graduation ceremonies, with all the close gathering and intermingling with strangers they require, can’t take place due to social distancing mandates across the country.

Still, it’s possible to celebrate a new grad’s hard work while maintaining safe social distance. (And without sitting through a long, hot ceremony in a high school or college gym or stadium.) Here’s how to celebrate a graduation at home—a coronamencement, if you will—without the crowds but with a lot of pomp and circumstance.

1. Organize a video party

One of the best parts of a graduation ceremony is the excuse to gather with friends and family for a joyous celebration. And, thanks to advances in the increasingly important video chatting sphere, it’s still possible to have a joyous gathering—a virtual one, that is. Arrange a Zoom call in honor of the grad so those nearest and dearest to them can drop in to give a toast, tell them how proud they are, and offer some words of wisdom for the coming years.

For an extra impact, keep the time and date of the call a surprise for the new grad, and simply have them come to the computer when it’s time. This is as close as they’ll get to a surprise graduation party—and, because they can’t exactly go anywhere else, it’ll be a lot easier to pull off the surprise. Plus, remote video allows far-flung relatives and friends to participate.

2. Commission a celebrity as your commencement speaker

Most graduation ceremonies don’t feature an appearance from Harry Potter alums, Real Housewives, or core characters from The Office. But yours can if you use Cameo, a service that allows you to purchase a personalized video message from participating celebrities, including Tom Felton, Bethenny Frankel, Leslie David Baker (that is, Stanley from The Office), and more. Simply select a celeb, write a brief description of what you’d like them to say, and give them some time to send it back.

Not feeling any of Cameo’s offerings? Find some classic commencement addresses on YouTube, like Conan O’Brien’s speech at Dartmouth in 2011, Oprah Winfrey’s speech at Harvard in 2013, and Toni Morrison’s speech at Wellesley College in 2004, so you can still get the inspirational impact of a great graduation speech. You can also tune into a virtual graduation ceremony for all 2020 grads on May 15 on Facebook or Instagram, featuring appearances from Oprah, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Garner, Simone Biles, and more.

3. Create your own video gift

If you can’t find a time that works for everyone in your circle, consider Tribute. One person will invite others to record a short video message, which are edited into one touching video. Don’t worry if you’re not a film-editing expert—reviewers say Tribute’s interface makes it easy to compile all the videos seamlessly once they are all received. Planning on sending a quick Venmo or Cashapp as a gift? If so, grads will also appreciate GiftCast, an app that allows you to give money plus a video message, so you can get your mental message across (as well as a monetary one).  

4. Build a collection of your favorite photos and memories using a personal bluetooth printer

Personal bluetooth printers eliminate the hassle of using a regular printer, getting photo paper, and zapping ink cartridges. TheHP Sprocket 200 Printer is a great option, and its prints come out with a sticky backing, so they’re ready for use. The Sprocket uses thermal technology to print photos, so you won’t have to worry about ink cartridges again. If you want to go for a vintage vibe, check out the Fuji film Instax SHARE SP-2, which prints polaroids on demand. These pictures don’t come with a sticky backing, so have some tape or a glue stick ready. Stick the prints in a journal or small notebook, scrapbook, or even on a piece of card stock, and write something, like a quote or story, that explains what they mean to you. The best part, is you can do this together (but still a little apart) on Zoom or Google Hangouts. Share the pictures you’ve picked with your friends, and have a laugh about the memories they represent.

5. Bring the big screen into your backyard

Friends and families everywhere are staying in touch through virtual movie nights, but you can take it to the next level in your own backyard with a projector and screening under the stars. Make it a marathon of your favorite movies, from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Legally Blonde, or whatever strikes your fancy. Watch with friends by starting the movie at the same time and chatting via Zoom or Google Hangouts. You can also use a Google Chrome extension, called Netflix Party, where the streaming service automatically synchronizes video playback among computers, and even provides an internal group chat. To make it feel fancy, bust out some wine and a mini cheese board. If you’re living at home, rope your family into it, make some fresh popcorn, spread out a blanket on the lawn (or a couple camping chairs), have a picnic in your yard and kick back while the movie rolls.

The Ematic LCD Projector is well rated on Best Buy. It can connect to phones and laptops (though depending on your device, you may need to supply your own cables).

6. Whip up a nice meal, or get take-out from a favorite nearby restaurant

Order in or make your own nice dinner with delivery services like Crowd Cow, which sells fresh farm to table meats, and even lobster tails. If you want a full spread, check out our favorite meal delivery service, Home Chef. Of course, you can also order a nice takeout meal from a local restaurant, through apps and services like Grubhub. If you’re looking to “spice things up,” you can make a themed dinner like the ones by this TikTok user. His themed dinners range from Cinderella, where he set up a candlelit scene, secluded table, and served pasta, to hibachi. The options don’t stop there—recreate your experience at Red Robin or any other restaurant, or make a Ratatouille (the dish, Pixar movie, or both) themed dinner. The choices are endless, so you can get creative and go all out.

7. Get grilling for a festive family-only grad party

If you’re not ordering takeout or cooking up a meal in the kitchen, gather the family in the backyard for what is universally agreed upon as the main kind of American celebratory fare: barbecue. Whether you grill up Angus beef quarter-pounders or veggie burgers is up to you, but you should do it with our top grilling items: Our favorite gas grill, the Weber Spirit II E-310, which has room for alot of grillable food and cooks everything on it to perfection, the OXO tongs and spatula to make flipping dogs, burgers, and veggies easy, and the ThermoWorks ThermoPop meat thermometer, to ensure your meal is cooked all the way through. Make sure it’s clear that this is a graduation barbecue—not just any old barbecue—by adorning your surroundings with grad-appropriate decor. Think: a celebratory banner, balloons, and even a grad cap-donning teddy bear—because every graduation day could use some embellishment.

8. Make a graduation themed TikTok with your friends

TikTok is a creative way to stay in touch with friends. One popular style of TikTok involves a series of friends linking short clips together with a uniform action or movement. One example is this video of friends opening their fridges, and pulling out a different item. Users have also created videos where they drop or throw something like a makeup brush to others, deemed the #passthebrushchallenge. Switch out the brush for a tassel or cap, and feature each of your friends doing something fun, then passing the object through the frame, or darkening through the screen, to switch to the next person and clip.

9. Play your own graduation walk-out music with a great speaker

It won’t be in a big, sweaty gymnasium, and it won’t be in front of a bunch of strangers. But you can still ensure a grand (solo) procession with some space to strut and a good speaker (like our favorite, the JBL Flip 4) to play graduation-worthy music. Start with the processional classic Pomp & Circumstance, which you can play as they walk to collect a “diploma” (which may just be an empty folder if the actual proof of graduation hasn’t been delivered yet). Then, move into those corny-but-iconic graduation staple tunes like “Graduation” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” for a soundtrack worthy of tossing a cap into the air.

10. Use Disney’s firework display as a backdrop for your walk

Disney recently released their famous Happily Ever After Fireworks Show for online streaming, so you can watch the vibrant display from home. But why play it on a small screen, when you could project it in your yard or house? The video is high quality, and even has the music that accompanies the display. Use the projected firework show as the backdrop for your own private walk, then move your tassel across your cap once you've crossed the "stage." Your graduation will be among the most elaborate ceremonies and celebrations out there.

11. Bake a sweet treat—or have one delivered 

Graduation celebrations should always involve a great dessert, so why not make your own? You can video chat with your friends and bake together. Raid the pantry for basic ingredients and go from there, or if you’re afraid of what might come out of the oven, try a delivered baking kit that supplies pre-measured ingredients and everything you need, aside from perishables (like butter and eggs), a bowl, and spoon. Whisk Takers offers a number of different kits for classics, like chocolate hazelnut cake, and s’mores brownies.

For those with a more adventurous palate, Red Velvet NYC has a range of unique desserts, like matcha swirl cookies, a chai spice bundt cake, and even tiramisu. Both Red Velvet NYC and Whisk Takers carry gluten free options, and don’t require a monthly subscription. If you want to go for something more engaging, turn this into a baking challenge with your family and friends. Have everyone make their own cake or cupcakes inspired by a beautiful and delectable dessert image (byway of Google or Pinterest), a la Nailed It! on Netflix. Bake your desserts, and compare them with your friends’, then dig in together via Zoom or Google Hangouts.

12. Get some champagne for instant gratification 

Uncorking a bottle of champagne right after crossing the podium is generally frowned upon—if your graduation ceremony is happening in public and/or on school grounds. But if you’re hosting a DIY graduation ceremony in the privacy of your own home or backyard, there’s no reason why (21+) grads shouldn’t get some bubbly ASAP. If you have a local wine store you know and love, call them and see if they can deliver a bottle of champagne or prosecco. If not, use a service like Drizly or to have a bottle sent straight to you or your grad. For an extra festive touch, add in some edible beverage glitter for a boost of swirly, shimmery goodness to the drink.

13. Conduct a through-the-years scavenger hunt 

One way to make an at-home graduation fun? A scavenger hunt. Arrange small gifts and tokens from the grad's childhood—like old photos, memorabilia from past graduations, sports trophies, and anything else that represents your grad’s journey—around the house, and attach a small clue to each item that brings them to the next. If you do it chronological order, it can help them reflect on their life, accomplishments, and what it took for them to get to this particular moment—which, hopefully, will make it feel that much more special.

14. Get a cap and gown for a cool photo op

No graduation day is complete without a photo shoot in a tasseled cap and hot, sweaty, polyester robe, right? If you still have an older sibling’s graduation outfit tucked away, break it out for a second use for your DIY graduation. If you want to buy a new one (and the school isn’t sending any out), order it fresh from Graduation Outlet. This guarantees a great photo—you can accessorize with a face mask, if you want to make it clear that this happened in 2020—and squares away a Hogwarts Halloween costume for next year.

15. Start a graduation-themed letter chain 

Start a chain of letters with your closest friends, where you send one to a friend, and they send one to another. It’s easiest if you pick a certain number of people, and track who has received a letter in your group chat or with Google Drive. Write about anything—your memories, inside jokes, or that disastrous introductory history class you took freshman year. Eventually, the letter chain will circle back to you. It’s inexpensive, memorable, and fun. Letters are a nice memento that you can actually hold and keep for a long time. Get creative, you can throw in pictures, or stickers. They’re almost like a personalized yearbook. And these days, who doesn’t love getting something in the mail?

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