Ceremonies may be postponed or canceled, but that doesn't mean you can't toast the class of 2020!

By Joelle Goldstein
May 08, 2020 02:27 PM
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Lauren Baxter in her backyard on her graduation day
| Credit: Lauren Baxter

It's safe to say the class of 2020 never expected their graduation plans to be affected by a global pandemic.

With schools and college campuses closed, sit-down restaurants and bars no longer an option, and stay-at-home mandates in place, many have been forced to cancel or change their initial graduation plans. But that doesn't mean you can't celebrate in other ways.

Here, you'll find a list of ideas to show your graduate just how proud you are of their accomplishments with a creative — and social distancing-friendly! — fête.

Throw a virtual celebration on Zoom with friends and family.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, Zoom and other video conference platforms have been the go-to for everyone to communicate as they social distance. Graduation should be no different.

If you can't have all of their loved ones together in person, consider throwing a virtual celebration in honor of the graduate with as many friends and family members in attendance as you'd like!

Some people, like SUNY Albany master's graduate Megan Moroukian, have even gone so far as to invite their favorite celebrities to these Zoom gatherings. If you're lucky, you just might have a surprise visitor pop in to celebrate the big day.

"This gave me something to help ease the pain of not hearing my name called and walking across the stage to receive my diploma," says Moroukian, who was surprised by John Legend and Chrissy Teigen on a Zoom call with her friends. "I was dealing with a lot of thoughts and feelings about my special day turning into 'just another day' due to COVID-19. Now, I have this incredible silver lining."

Megan Moroukian's graduation Zoom
| Credit: Megan Moroukian

Organize a drive-by parade.

Nothing lifts spirits quite like a parade of cars honking their horns for a graduate.

If you're set on seeing friends and family on the big day, but still want to keep your distance, consider organizing a parade of cheer through the neighborhood while your graduate proudly waves to them from the front lawn in their cap and gown.

Bring the ceremony to you.

The parents of Lauren Baxter, a graduate from The Ohio State University, knew how much she was looking forward to celebrating her graduation on the field at Ohio Stadium.

When the in-person ceremony was postponed and replaced with a live-stream, Baxter's dad held a backyard brunch and spray-painted the school's red block "O" on their lawn so that it could mimic the one in the stadium on the 50-yard line.

"Even though I couldn’t celebrate with my friends from school, I had so many people showing me love and support," Baxter says. "I appreciate all my family did to make sure the weekend was as special as it would’ve been before all of this happened."

Lauren Baxter in her backyard
| Credit: Lauren Baxter

Fellow Ohio State graduate Kristina Gee's family also got creative by building a stage in their backyard with plywood and 2x4's, which they covered with an Ohio State plastic tablecloth. They also decorated with Ohio State chairs, flags, and signs.

"I was not expecting any of this and it made the day very special," Gee tells PEOPLE. "Having this virtual celebration was not as I had imagined my graduation day to be, but it's not a day I will ever forget."

Kristina Gee on the backyard stage her family built
| Credit: courtesy kristina gee

Transform your home into a party spot.

Many graduates have been bummed that they won't be able to celebrate one last time at a beloved restaurant, bar, or pub near campus. If you can't go to the place, try transforming your home to resemble it as closely as possible.

This can include lights, decorations, recreated and personalized menus, and for some, even holding "wine tours", a.k.a. turning every room in your home into a different spot on the tour, complete with an array of wines to taste.

Visit a nearby college campus and "hold" your ceremony there.

Some graduates have used what's available to them to make the day special. In the case of University of Michigan graduate Sami Herzog, she wasn't able to receive her diploma in Ann Arbor — so her family got creative and traveled to the nearest college campus to hold a fake ceremony.

Standing outside one of the closed buildings at UCLA, Herzog wore her cap and gown, received her diploma, and celebrated with her immediate family, who recorded the entire moment.

"Although this wasn’t the way I originally anticipated celebrating my graduation, our 'ceremony' was a special, intimate memory I’ll cherish forever," Herzog tells PEOPLE.

Take photos on your front lawn.

To commemorate the big day, photos are a must. Even if you're not going to an "official" ceremony, dress up and have a photoshoot in your cap and gown outside your home.

Not only will it serve as a fun thing to do on graduation day, but it will also be something the graduate can look back on to remember this milestone forever.

Adopt a senior.

Many people around the country have jumped at the chance to celebrate their high school seniors — even if they don't have a senior themselves.

In towns like Candor, New York, community members have rallied around their local high school seniors by "adopting" one, or leaving care packages, cards, and other gifts in front of their homes as a sign of support.

Says Ashton Teribury, a senior at Candor Junior-Senior High School: "We had our senior year stripped from us in a way we never could’ve expected, but to have the community supporting us and holding us up when we are dealing with so many emotions means the world to us. There are no words to fully describe the love we are all feeling."

One of the care packages received by a student at Candor Junior-Senior High School
| Credit: Ashton Teribury and Jennah Kareem

Paint the town with pride.

Many communities have also shown their support for the class of 2020 by decorating front doors, windows, and yards with pictures, signs, banners, and memorabilia from their high school years.

Local businesses have also been decorating their windows to pay homage to the class of 2020, while school administrators have dropped off custom signs congratulating each graduate.

Taylor Despres outside her front door
| Credit: Tricia Despres

Taylor Despres, a senior at Downers Grove South High School in Downers Grove, Illinois, tells PEOPLE the gesture is incredibly meaningful.

"It's such a hard time for everyone and we are all constantly thinking about the things we are missing out on," she says. "But being able to see the community doing all that they can to support us and guide us through this rough time — from the small details like the door being decorated to the school dropping off signs to every senior — it just gives us validation during this hard time."

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