Imagine running an entire marathon only to have the finish line disappear before you cross it. Was all of this running and sweating in vain? You earned that finish line, but now you are standing in the street with doubt and disappointment. Life is full of unforgettable moments, and there are certain celebrations we expect to happen. We dream about those moments and dedicate countless hours preparing to make them special. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a global pause, causing graduating seniors to grapple with virtual graduation reality.
Their disappointment is real and their concerns are valid. As their youth leader, this is the time to listen and be creative. The absence of grand applause should not diminish the validity of their achievements. Yet, when you work hard, sometimes you just want to hear, “job well done.” Many of our urban youth are used to unfortunate circumstances and have become callous to their expectations. However, you can help make this moment special.
Before you begin to plan, I encourage you to talk to your seniors. Sincerely, ask them how they feel. The loss of lasts is painful. They missed their senior week, prom, and now graduation. Give them an outlet to unpack their feelings. You can create a safe place for them in a digital group call or individually through direct phone calls. Discover what they expected most from their graduation service. The last thing you want to do is create an event that doesn’t appeal to your teens or give a talk that isn’t relevant.
Based on what you learn, consider these ideas”
- In a card or on custom stationery, print scriptures every graduate will need. Don’t forget to have all of your ministry volunteers sign it.
- A photo book or photo card with memories from the year.
- “Before You Go: Following Jesus and Growing in Your Faith After High School” By Gerald Fadayomi
- “Love Does” By Bob Goff
- An honor cord in your ministry color.
- A graduation certificate signed by the Senior Pastor or ministry leader.
- Drop off a unique graduation gift on the doorstep of each senior that is personality specific.
- Make a card and place a picture of your youth group or both of you inside the card. Take a memory you all created through the youth group and write about it on the card. For the kid that always talked about a particular snack, get the snacks, especially for that student that bought a gallon of juice on a multi-hour road trip gets a gallon of juice.
Family Ice Cream Social:
- Drop off a plate, a mini ice cream cup, a cupcake, a spoon, and a card inviting them to a virtual graduation social.
- The card will ask them to participate in a zoom call where all of you will share ice cream and cake. On the zoom call, give them encouraging words and share memories.
Cameo – Zoom Party:
- Do a zoom party for your group and then play a custom graduation talk from a celebrity
- Reach out to your network to see if the city mayor, a news anchor, local sports player, will make a recorded statement and send it to you.
- Or, use the Cameo app to purchase a custom graduation talk from a national celebrity.
- Invite the students to your church campus for the special event
- At the event have a bull horn to announce names, a sound system or speaker to play “pomp and circumstance” (The graduation song), and honor cords in the color of your ministry (TassleDepot.com)
- Set an area for the students with their parent/guardian to drive through. At the first stop, give them an honor cord in the color of your ministry.
- Announce their name as they pull up.
- Have a DJ playing music as they drive through the event.
- Get a Yard Sign that says Congratulations.
- At the end of the parade, have your pastor or a ministry leader give a commencement address. The students and their parents/guardians will remain in the cars. Take advantage of Instagram Live or Facebook live so that everyone can hear and comment simultaneously.
Limited Guest Graduation:
- This idea is excellent for doing separate ceremonies. The party can be done outside under a tent or in a fellowship hall with limited attendance for the student and immediate family.
- Get yard signs with pictures of your graduates.
- Invite students to wear their cap and gown to the celebration and have a photographer get professional pictures of the student with the senior pastor or ministry leaders.
- Honor your seniors each day of a specific week
- Monday – Post a video collage of your seniors
- Tuesday – Post Parent/guardian video tributes
- Wednesday – Post a video from one of your college students
- Thursday – Post a video collage of your ministry leader’s throwback senior pics
- Friday – Virtual call commencement address from your senior pastor or ministry leader
The critical thing to remember in all of this celebration, that it is ultimately about the students. Please don’t get distracted by other ministries’ budgets, but take a piece from their ideas and creatively make it work for your context. Your students care about your opinion and value your appreciation. Do the best you can with what you have. Get creative and show your students that this moment still matters.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
William Cumby serves as youth pastor for The Fountain of Praise in Houston, TX. He is a graduate of the DeVos Urban Leadership Initiative and a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Oral Roberts University. William volunteers in multiple school districts, is a dad blogger, writing contributor for The Grow Curriculum and Youth Specialties, seminar teacher with UYWI, and a published author. During football season, William serves as the varsity football chaplain for Thurgood Marshall High School as well as multiple other schools in FBISD. Because of his relentless taco addiction, he is also a fitness fanatic and personal trainer. On February 20, 2018, William was awarded his own day in the city of Houston, Texas. William and his wife Ebony have three children together.