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Caps in the Air: UD Celebrates the Class of 2020 Virtually

Blue Hen Celebration: Honoring the Class of 2020:
May 30, 2020

Caps in the Air: UD Celebrates the Class of 2020 Virtually
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The event

  • 13 days from start to showtime
  • 1 day

The success

  • 16,400+ total event views
  • 7,400+ guests
  • 2,500 audience comments

The challenge

The Class of 2020 was set to don their graduation gowns—but COVID-19 threatened to keep caps from flying.

The solution

An interactive, innovative virtual event to honor the graduates and their loved ones—in just 13 days.

The impact

A rich celebration of achievement featuring heartwarming photos, global engagement, and happy memories.

Pomp—and an unusual circumstance

As the First State’s flagship university, with a history of pioneering achievements, The University of Delaware (UD) is committed to providing excellence in education—emphasizing innovation and discovery. In the spring of 2020, UD’s graduates couldn’t wait to walk across the stage in all their academic finery as friends and family cheered them on. But when the pandemic put everyone at risk, the university needed a new plan, pronto.

When we decided to honor the Class of 2020 in a virtual format, we knew we needed to make it very special and memorable. We wanted students and their families to experience a real University of Delaware celebration—one that looks and feels like the University is hosting it.

-April Doughty, Digital Project Manager, University of Delaware

Making the grade with Brandlive

University students and leaders rose to the challenge with the innovative spirit that defines their school. They decided to postpone a traditional commencement ceremony, but wanted to celebrate their hard work and big milestone with a virtual event that would allow everyone to celebrate safely. With time running out, Brandlive partnered with UD make their vision a reality—in just 13 days.

Caps in the Air: UD Celebrates the Class of 2020 Virtually

Challenges solved

  1. Looks like we’re pulling an all-nighter—just 13 days to go virtual!

    Graduating students jumped right in to envisioning and creating a unique online event—dubbed the Blue Hen Celebration—coordinating the planning with University leaders. Produced in partnership with Brandlive, the celebration gave UD’s newest graduates a chance to reflect on the moments that shaped them and look forward to their bright future as alumni.

    Beth Brand, Vice President and University Secretary, explained: “The Blue Hen Celebration isn’t meant to replace commencement, but we still wanted to take a moment at the end of the academic year to recognize and celebrate all of the amazing accomplishments of the Class of 2020.”

    With Brandlive, UD built a unique, pioneering celebration, incorporating all of UD’s specific needs, in just 13 days.

  2. Welcoming grads around the globe.

    When planning the event with Brandlive, the UD team had a specific vision. First, it would feature select members of the Class of 2020, as well as appearances by University leaders, prominent alumni, and special guests. And the guest list was very long—it had to accommodate all students’ loved ones.

    April Doughty, Digital Project Manager, explained, “We needed to find a platform that would support over 10,000 live attendees across the globe.”

    The Brandlive Events platform, which supports over 1 million attendees across locations, was a perfect fit. And for full accessibility, UD chose closed-captioning to make sure every single one of their thousands of guests felt welcome.

  3. Making it memorable for new-diploma feeling.

    Beyond the technical needs—and perhaps most importantly—Doughty wanted a memorable experience for guests.

    “When we decided to honor the class of 2020 in a virtual format, we knew we needed to make it very special and memorable. We wanted students and their families to experience a real University of Delaware celebration—one that looks and feels like the University is hosting it.”

    To that end, the Brandlive Production team partnered with UD to create a design strategy that aligned the event’s visual appearance with the UD brand.

  4. Totally prepared to ace the final.

    With such a quick turnaround—and so many attendees to handle—Doughty appreciated having the opportunity to test the event page. “We loved the test site the day before—to see how it would go,” she said. “We invited all the University leaders and tested features—chat, video, uploading photos, engaging with each other. Being in a testing environment of the event platform—it puts your mind at ease.”

Caps in the Air: UD Celebrates the Class of 2020 Virtually

I was thrilled to not only still have the opportunity to celebrate such a wonderful accomplishment...the Brandlive platform was the perfect fit and I thoroughly enjoyed working with the professional, helpful and fun team there.

-April Doughty, Digital Project Manager, University of Delaware

Big wins

  1. A big blow-out bash, plus an on-demand after-party.

    On the morning of May 30, 2020, over 7,000 members of the UD Class of 2020 and their families attended the virtual Blue Hen Celebration. For family members who were unable to attend the virtual event in real time, the UD team wanted the broadcast to be accessible on-demand. Using Brandlive made it easy, with post-event viewing functionality built into the Events platform and available to all guests with secure login credentials.

  2. Doing it for the ‘Gram—and nailing engagement.

    UD’s tailor-made celebration was a success, featuring several interactive and creative ways for loved ones to celebrate with graduates. UD’s custom-produced pre-roll video was closed captioned and uploaded by the Brandlive team to the event page.

    In addition, social media posts tagged #UDGrad2020 were aggregated in a custom section right below the video player, affectionately dubbed “virtual shout-outs.”

  3. Applause and engagement in real time.

    The Blue Hen Celebration employed creative and adaptive Brandlive engagement features to drive audience interaction. For example, in place of clapping for graduates, organizers directed guests to use the chat feed to applaud, and the intermittent “clapping” gave the virtual event energy boosts throughout. Event guests also used custom University gifs.

    Another requirement for UD was a way for friends and family to congratulate the graduates—in real time within the virtual event. Brandlive’s live chat feature was the perfect way for guests to cheer for their loved ones—they shared over 2,500 comments singing the grads’ praises. The UD team also liked the ability to moderate the chat in real time, saying it was “a huge pro” to ensure a smooth and successful event.

  4. Class picture day!

    UD wanted engagement even beyond chat functionality, and asked Brandlive for a personalized experience. The solution: family and friends submitted photos of the graduates in the comments section, featured as an exclusive stream on the event site.

    Guest Alexis Pavlis of Philipsburg, NJ, posted a photo of her smiling niece, Sia, dressed in full graduation garb, and commented, “Congratulations to my beautiful niece/goddaughter Sia Gabrilis! I am so proud of you!!! Love you so much!”

    Brandlive Account Executive Nick Ehnot attended the virtual celebration and said, “It was still early in the morning, and thousands of people were at this event. All those people uploading photos of grads on the steps of their home, in their yards, smiling. It was really cool to see the celebration go on.”

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