Graduation is always a special time for students and their families, but never more so than post-pandemic, when many graduates had waited for two years for their chance to throw on a gown and cross the stage.
May’s Graduation Celebrations saw thousands of former students descend on campus, accompanied by friends, parents, partners, children and even a few dogs.
There was never any doubt that these celebrations were going to be a huge deal, with teams across York investing months of work into preparing digital content, physical signage, a twinkly homepage takeover and special events to mark the occasion.
We even rolled out our new branding to help mark the occasion, inviting our graduates to be among the first to experience a brand new graduation look and feel.
But from a social media perspective, the celebrations presented an interesting conundrum: how do you make a special occasion feel even more special?
Social media is, by its very nature, a busy place to be – with bright colours, smiling faces and heartwarming stories available everywhere you look. As a university, our experience is no exception; throughout graduation season, our feeds are filled with well-dressed alumni, proud parents and emotional declarations.
The challenge, therefore, is to stand out from a crowd where everyone has something special to offer.
Ahead of the big week, we put together several social media videos to support the build-up to the celebrations, with top tips on places to take graduation photos, a sneak peek at what to expect from the big day, and a heads-up on the cap doffing process.
But how to mark the ceremonies themselves? We discussed plenty of options for this: Should we ask staff to send in messages for their former students? Could we put together some content celebrating all the challenges our graduates had overcome? Maybe we could invite some of our more recognisable alumni to send their best wishes?
But we very quickly decided that this wouldn’t work. Graduation is our students’ opportunity to celebrate their own successes, and reflect on their personal stories. And the only person who can tell a graduate’s story is the graduate themselves.
So instead of speaking for, or on behalf of, our graduates, we invited them to tell us their own stories.
Getting to know our graduates
In a series of dedicated videos, we invited graduates from across the University to tell us about their time at York, share their advice for incoming freshers, and catch us up on where they are now (spoiler alert: they’re doing very well!).
Over the course of the week, we spoke to dozens of alumni, each with a unique story to tell. Aowab told us how he had come to York through Clearing, and was full of praise for his lectures, while Colin reflected on how a wide range of module choices had helped shape his time at York and led to his dream job in London.
Emma was celebrating receiving her second York qualification, and attended graduation with her proud son Jackson. And Curating and Art History graduate Chloe was preparing to start her new role at Buckingham Palace.
It was an incredibly rewarding thing to be part of. Hearing our graduates and alumni tell their stories, and brag, just a little, about their successes served as a lovely reminder of what University is all about.
And it wasn’t just internally that the videos sparked joy. Across Instagram Reels and Tiktok, the videos have now been viewed more than 38,000 times, with people flocking to show their support for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.
We also wanted to give a sense of the graduation atmosphere. We had good fun meeting some of this year’s four-legged graduation attendees, and even made a botched attempt at ranking them (there was a many-way tie for first place).
And, of course, we shared lots of graduate photos.
We still have plenty of these videos in reserve, so expect to hear more from our alumni in due course!
But for now, we say congratulations – Class of 2020 and 2021, we salute you!