Marking the Moment was a virtual platform to celebrate the Class of 2020. The ultimate goal of this event was to create something special for any 2020 graduate. With in-person events halted, it was important to find a meaningful way to let these soon-to-be alums know how proud their Duke community is of them.
We created a website that allowed for undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to select a pathway for a customized experience from the safety of their own homes. Once on the site, there was programming created specifically for those populations. Moving to a virtual celebration demanded an entirely new form of creativity. It is important to note that this website was not a replacement for commencement. The ceremony itself was postponed, so we were challenged with how to create something that would honor this moment while still giving hope for the in-person ceremony to come. With over 10,000 unique visitors on May 10, we were pleased with the success of this virtual platform.
Why did you choose this format/model over others?
We knew we wanted something that would be easy to navigate for everyone involved. The website format offered worldwide and ongoing access, allowing the celebration to live on as a virtual time capsule for people to experience for years to come.
Elements that made this experience unique included social media downloadables, over 400 customized videos from faculty, staff, fellow classmates, and alumni, as well as unique messaging from President Price and other VIPs (perhaps my favorite was this one by special guest, Cascada!). We also had live events scheduled throughout the day to keep people engaged. They ranged from Q&As with on campus celebrities, like Coach K, to panel sessions to talk about how they could become more involved as alumni of the institution. All materials can be seen at https://2020.duke.edu/.
What resources, skills, and partners did you use in creating this virtual event? Attachments welcome and can be uploaded in following question.
We had to pivot rather quickly since COVID-19 became serious during the spring semester – right when all of the plans for an in-person ceremony were being solidified. Ultimately, this new concept came to life in a span of 6 weeks with the launch taking place on Sunday, May 10, 2020.
With little time to re-route, it was important that we collaborate with multiple offices across campus to bring this to life. We reviewed multiple bids on this project before hiring August Jackson, a creative agency that works to bring these types of platforms to life. They have worked with University Development before and are familiar with the campus culture. In fact, they were indispensable in helping each school visualize what their area of the website. We worked closely with University Communications, the President’s Office, and the communicators across all schools to re-imagine what this website could encapsulate. Through numerous Zoom meetings, we talked through how this could be meaningful across the board, hashing and re-hashing what was most feasible. As overall project management leaders, our office compiled the notes and orchestrated the overall big picture, ensuring that the final package truly honored the Class of 2020. We tested different templates and ideas until we finally found the right combination that would make this celebration come to life. August Jackson and University Communications did the heavy lifting when it came to content production and building this website.
What did you learn from planning this virtual event?
Communication is key! In fact, I think that all parties involved would admit that there truly cannot be enough communication. Between our office, University Communications, and the President’s Office, we had multiple standing meetings to check in every couple of days to ensure that things were moving forward appropriately. The Nicholas School was incredibly engaged and truly set the bar high. They provided a lot of leadership to other schools to show how to engage their unique populations in creating content to celebrate their graduates.
When we first started this project, it was a challenge to communicate what we needed from other departments, because, frankly, we weren’t too sure ourselves. Through conversations with various constituents, the direction became more and more clear. In the future, we would also add regularly scheduled check-in meetings with the other schools and departments to keep everyone informed inspired and focused.
What is your next virtual event challenge?
Our biggest challenges for university ceremonies this semester were Opening Convocation and Founders’ Day. We turned Opening Convocation into a virtual ceremony (https://youtu.be/viHkyN9jnUM) and created a weeklong email communication plan for Founders’ Day to honor pioneers of the university (https://founders.duke.edu).
Please list the names and titles of anyone else who was vital to this project:
Special thanks to Terry Chambliss, Sr. Director of Special Events & University Ceremonies; Kristen Brown, Blyth Morrell, Lawrence Kluttz and their teams plus the communicators and planners from each school for helping to make this all come to life. This was truly a collaborative effort that was made possible by the teamwork of so many people!
Senior Program Coordinator for University Ceremonies
Office of Special Events & University Ceremonies