Graduations won’t stop because of social distancing. But with schools still closed nationwide, any grad will tell you this much-anticipated milestone is feeling pretty anti-climactic. Just because your graduate isn’t able to walk across a stage to receive their diploma doesn’t mean you should let this momentous occasion slide.
Erin Degl’Innocenti, of Kabe Magnolia Events in Los Angeles, encourages parents to make as much of a celebration as they can out of their child’s major milestones—especially when families need to socially distance themselves from their loved ones.
“I encourage people to invest in recreating the energy that they would find if they were all together. It’s so important to be with family and loved ones in times of celebration—even if you aren’t able to celebrate in the same room, we need to celebrate things that are important,” she says.
Here are 13 inventive ideas for creating a real celebration during a time of social distancing. We hope it’ll inspire you to celebrate any graduation—kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school, college, and beyond.
1. Send out real invitations
It’s not a party if there aren’t any guests! This party might not be a traditional one, but it’s should still feel official. Minted has a line of fancy virtual invites that are designed by artists, and sites like Paperless Post and Evite are other great options.
Make sure the time and how you plan to host the party are clear on the invite. Whether it be on Zoom or FaceTime, or a live stream on Facebook, make sure all of the details are clear. Give older or less tech-savvy loved ones a quick tutorial a day or two before on whichever platform you are using so you don’t have to spend the whole party troubleshooting tech issues with Grandpa.
2. Look the part
If you’ve been living in sweats for the past few months, now is the time to pull yourselves together. Splurge on a new dress or sharp blazer for your graduate or dust off the dress duds you almost forgot you owned. If you’re looking to spruce things up with some new threads, Nordstrom has options that won’t break the bank, and Maisonette is always a great source for children’s special occasion apparel.
Add to the fun with some celebratory accessories, like grad glasses, a graduation tiara, or a custom a graduation T-shirt and cap. For a little bit of fun, convince your grad to wear that cap and gown you already paid for a few months ago. And don’t forget about the little ones: If your graduate has just completed kindergarten, elementary school, or middle school, get them their own graduation getup to add some pomp and circumstance to the day. Make the party more festive by asking guests to dress up, too. Since you know some guests will only dress up from the waist up, give prizes or virtual high-fives to people who dress up from head-to-toe.
3. Dress up the place
Just because the party guests aren’t walking through your front door doesn’t mean you can’t set the party stage in style. Companies like Kedziefest Parties have upscale paper goods and party supplies to give your event a bit of pizazz. Kedziefest’s Grad Party in a Box has everything you need, including place settings, confetti, and balloons, to make any part of your celebration feel special. They also have virtual party packs with celebratory backdrops to give some flair to your online gathering.
Don’t keep the festivities indoors! This is the year to make sure the whole neighborhood knows this is the house where fun—and a recent graduate—live. Get some streamers for your trees and post some lawn signs to announce your pride in your kid’s accomplishments to anyone driving by.
4. Have a photo shoot
You may not be able to have the studio shoot you planned, but local photographers can do wonders with a zoom lens. Families have been doing socially distanced photoshoots in their front yards, from their porches, and even from their windows. This is definitely a graduation year for the books. Don’t hold off on the graduation shoot until things are “back to normal;” this graduation year is history-making and should be commemorated. Have your grad of any age don their cap and gown, hold up their diploma, and smile for the camera. Since friends and family far away probably won’t be seeing the graduate any time soon, turn these photos into a snail mail graduation announcement to share with friends and family.
5. Host a drive-by parade
Play some music, hang some streamers from the trees, put up some celebratory lawn signs, and invite friends and family for a drive-by celebration. It’s a good idea to set an exact timeframe for folks to come by so you never lose the momentum of the moment. Encourage friends to decorate their cars and create fun signs congratulating the new grad. To keep your grad guessing, keep the car parade a secret from the guest of honor. Trick the home-bound honoree into thinking they are coming outside to take some dressed up photos and surprise them with a parade of their friends and family.
7. Have friends and family make video cards
For an idea that’s more interactive than a two-dimensional greeting card, have friends record their best wishes for and fun memories of your graduate. We love the Marco Polo app. It lets you to set up groups for family and friends to join, post, and create video replies to one another. Once in there they can view other people’s video messages and record their own with fun filters and voice effects. Unlike Snapchat, Marco Polo’s video messages don’t disappear, so your grad will have a sentimental virtual memento from graduation day that they can look back on when they are finally able to head off to their college campus.
8. Make a slide show
At other parties, a slide show might show in the background or a photo album might be ignored. With a virtual graduation party, you can create a full slideshow filled with your favorite memories and videos for everyone to watch and enjoy together, and your graduate will have an opportunity to share memories with guests who may not have otherwise seen them. We like Animoto, a user-friendly online slideshow maker that comes with a variety of themes and makes it easy for you to upload your photos and images. You can even import photos directly from Facebook and Instagram. Animoto allows you to easily upload your slideshow to YouTube or Facebook to share with all of your guests.
9. Let them open gifts
In recent years it’s been the trend to open gifts and cards after the last party guests have gone home. If guests want to send a gift, ask them to send it before the party for a little gift-opening ceremony for everyone to enjoy together, giving guests an interactive part in the occasion. If guests are at a loss for what to send, have them send words of encouragement or advice. Guests will be able to experience your graduate’s joy and your child will be able to thank friends and family in real time.
9. Speech! Speech!
This isn’t a normal graduation party, so the celebration doesn’t have to be traditional either. You can nominate someone (or multiple people) to give an inspiring commencement speech for your recent grade. Or, if your graduate is the type that likes to hold court, why not let them give the commencement address to party guests? Find inspiration from Speak Up!: Speeches by Young People to Empower and Inspire, which has 45 speeches by children and teenagers who have stood up for causes they believe in.
10. Pop some bubbly!
11. Order a fancy dinner—or dessert—in
Make it feel like a momentous occasion and order a snazzy dinner spread from that trendy restaurant your grad has been dying to try. Most restaurants are still open for orders for delivery or contact-free pickup. Finish dinner off with a special cake or pastry from a local bakery. If you’re going the delivery route, make sure to call ahead to see if the restaurant or bakery handle their own delivery. Most delivery apps take a portion of the profits from restaurants and bakeries, so ordering directly usually puts more money in the pockets of these small business owners.
12. Host a game night
You can, of course, come up with your own game night, but this is a way to make it feel really special. Watson Adventures will host a personalized event with a live host that will keep the games moving and keep everyone laughing. Their customized game night includes a photo scavenger hunt, a mystery message decoding game, and a virtual graduation trivia game. They organize teams and prepare questions that are focused on your graduate and their particular interest. They use Zoom to bring the party together, plus their own app to deliver the questions, collect the answers, and keep score.
13. Have a dance party
You can definitely host a dance party yourself, with a Spotify or Apple playlist. Create the playlist before the party, and when it’s time to hit the dance floor, play the playlist through the computer (Zoom works best) and get dancing. If you want a glitch-free event without any computer feedback on the audio, you might consider hosting a DJ that specializes in virtual events, like Golden Bell Music. For under $500, you can have a 100-person party with two rotating DJs and a horn section! For a more modest $100 to $200, you can have 20 guests and an hour of curated music from a live DJ.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.