Commencement season is a special period of celebration and reflection for universities and their community of students, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders. As graduates prepare to embark on exciting new journeys, university communications teams play a pivotal role in crafting and sharing the stories that capture the magic of the moment.
As we enter this exciting time of the year, we wanted to share some tips for how university communications teams can skillfully merge student narratives with institutional values to create unforgettable and engaging commencement communications.
Articulate institutional values to craft key messages
Before getting started with the planning process, communications teams need to have a solid understanding of their university’s mission, vision, and values. These guiding principles will lay the groundwork for the overall commencement messaging strategy. Once these elements are identified, you can leverage them to develop key messages that mirror the institution’s values and can be smoothly incorporated into the communications materials.
Tell impactful student stories
Students are the heart of any institution, and their stories possess the power to engage and inspire audiences. To find the impactful stories that fit with your institutional values, consider:
- Asking faculty and staff for recommendations, as they often possess unique insights and are typically closest to the students.
- Reviewing your own announcements regarding award recipients, scholarship winners, and student organization leaders to identify those superstars.
- Encouraging students to nominate their peers for “Commencement Spotlights.”
Focus on the “Four-year Arc”
An intriguing and effective commencement communications plan tells the story that your audience is most interested in. For most of these students, the past four years will have been a transformative period of their life, and one that is meaningful to recap. By focusing on the past four years in its entirety, universities can create a more relatable and memorable experience for the students and honor the journey that the graduating class underwent together. When planning for that approach, consider the following:
- Revisit first-year student orientation for photos, stories, and other content. Not only will this bookend the story, but it also demonstrates the most significant physical changes in the student body.
- Incorporate personal anecdotes and quotes from students, faculty, and staff to add depth and authenticity to the narrative.
- Source photos and videos from students and the university.
Leverage all forms of media
To maximize the reach of student stories, make sure to take advantage of every channel at your fingertips to push them out, including:
- Website: Feature stories on the homepage and create a dedicated commencement microsite.
- Social media: Share stories on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, using engaging branded visuals and commencement-related tags.
- News media: Share top student stories and facts with members of the local and regional media to emphasize the impact of your commencement and highlight the students whose stories advance your institution’s narrative.
- Email campaigns: Send out personalized messages to students, alumni, faculty, staff, and other stakeholders to keep them informed and engaged.
- Print materials: Include student stories in commencement programs, newsletters, and other printed collateral.
Above all else, make sure to take a few moments every day to pause and enjoy this time. While it may be a whirlwind for those of us who plan and run these enormous exercises, they are pivotal moments that your soon-to-be-graduates and their families will remember fondly for years to come.
They may not remember every detail of their commencement, but they will keep the values that your institution instilled in them for their lifetimes.