Planning a Virtual Commencement

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 5/4/2020

Categories: F1RST Summer 2020 Faculty and Staff Pioneers Persevere University News


Kendra Zimdars
Kendra Zimdars

Back in mid-March, Carroll University leadership was weighing how to deal with commencement. Across the globe, businesses, cities and whole countries were shutting down in hopes of slowing the gathering pandemic storm. 


At Carroll, spring break had been extended and classes moved online, at least through early April. Kendra Zimdars was watching closely, and waiting. Zimdars was in her first year as the senior administrative assistant to the provost, and planning commencement was her responsibility. She wasn’t new to the task, as she had helped out with previous commencements since joining Carroll in 2014. But in all those years, the biggest worry had been whether foul weather would scuttle the traditional outdoor setting.

“This is my first year overseeing this. I got thrown a curve ball for sure,” she admitted.

This was unknown territory. How long would students be away from campus? How long would COVID-19 keep us inside? Would large gatherings be safe?

It was a dilemma campuses across the country were grappling with. “The options were to cancel, postpone or move it online,” said Zimdars. When Carroll became one of the first schools in the area to announce a virtual commencement, the reception wasn't unanimously positive, with some criticizing the school for pulling the trigger too quickly.

Zimdars, though, said the quick decision was a blessing, as it gave planners more time to pull off the move to an online ceremony. “By making the decision early, we had the ability to do things, such as get graduation gowns ordered and sent to the students in time.” 

The challenge was in creating an event that would still serve as a celebration of each graduate’s accomplishment and be a day to remember. Planners settled on a combination of live and pre-recorded segments. That sent the Information Technology Services and Marketing and Communications departments to work, determining the best way to host a live event online, pre-recording some elements and compiling photos and/or videos of each of the 720 or so participating students. (Read more about the ITS team and the incredible jobs they did getting the entire university online here.) The broadcast would originate outdoors, from Main Lawn, with a small group—maintaining correct social distancing measures—gathered to introduce the names and at least one bagpiper to uphold an old Carroll tradition.

By late-April, with the big day just weeks away, Zimdars was optimistic about the virtual commencement, the first in Carroll’s 174 years. “It’s always exciting. I’m an event planner by nature, so I love seeing all of the pieces come together. It’s a yes campus. We just say yes and then we figure it out.”

One big worry remained. “We still have to worry about the weather.”

Some things never change.

Find out about Carroll's Commencement here.
Box filled with Commencement items

Box filled with Commencement items

Box filled with Commencement items

In Difficult Times, PIONEERS Persevere