Advice related to overcoming difficult situations is routinely being used during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jake Sturgis of Chanhassen also sees a few positives as he assists more than 50 high schools with virtual graduation ceremonies.
“These ceremonies have the opportunity to be the most inclusive graduation ceremonies because of the number of students involved and because they all have a chance to kind of be on stage, so to speak,” he said.
“It may only be 15 or 20 seconds of them sharing their favorite high school memories, but it’s their opportunity to express themselves,” said Sturgis, who owns Captivate Media + Consulting. “Normally, only a few get to give a speech or qualify to be on stage, but this way, everyone has a chance to say what they want.”
Sturgis’ Golden Valley-based business serves the K-12 industry, including schools and businesses that serve the education market.
“As many schools were preparing for distance learning and how to teach their kids, we were looking at spring events like graduations, retirement ceremonies and scholarship nights; those traditions that schools have,” said Sturgis, who worked in the Hopkins and Minnetonka school districts a total of 12 years before starting his current business six years ago.
“We could see the writing on the wall that a number of schools would be taking those events virtually, so we wondered what that could look like,” he added. “We’re working with schools on how to honor traditions, so it looks and feels like a graduation ceremony, but doing it in a different way.”
Sturgis said the virtual ceremony offers schools and students avenues to create “something special and unique. None of these students ever dreamed they’d be graduating this way. We want to honor them in a safe way with a celebration of their accomplishments.”
In some cases, Sturgis goes to the school to video speeches, but the majority of the content is user-generated videos from students, staff and administrators.
“You might have a student speaker giving an address from their bedroom,” he said. “You might have students asking other students questions about their favorite part of high school or favorite Homecoming memory.”
In most cases, graduates will have about 15 seconds of video to do and say, within guidelines, what they want. Their individual photos and names, along with lists of accomplishments, will also be shown.
Schools are assisting Sturgis to make sure the IDs and spelling are correct.
“We are trying to get a number of user-generated clips; maybe a cap toss in the air where we can maybe put them all together,” Sturgis said.
Schools were asked to provide “everything we’re asking for” about two weeks before their respective graduations. The product will be sent to school officials about a week before the event to proof it.
“It’s kind of like a big jigsaw puzzle; putting the audio and video together with all the right pieces in place,” Sturgis said.
Chaska, Chanhassen, Jordan and Prior Lake are some of the high schools working with Sturgis for their virtual ceremonies.
Sturgis worked with a high school in Mississippi for its virtual graduation ceremony in mid-May, and is also working with a high school in Budapest, Hungary for theirs.
Sturgis said he “kind of became an online graduation specialist,” and has provided webinars about the subject. In the course of that webinar, he was contacted by that Budapest high school after that government ruled there would be no in-person ceremonies.
“What I enjoy about it is that students have the opportunity to tell their story in a unique way to honor their class and classmates,” Sturgis said. “They are so creative and I’m always eager to see what they have dreamed up.”
The presentation also allows for schools to include closed captioning, whether for hearing, language or other considerations.
“You can go back after the completion of the ceremony to certain spots, like where someone’s name is read, but everyone will be watching it online initially at the same time,” Sturgis said. “We expect audiences to be as big or bigger than in-person ceremonies.”