2020 Virtual Commencement at Apache College

Project Description

We celebrated the first graduating class of San Carlos Apache College! This celebration was originally slated to be, according to the Tribal Chairman, "the biggest event of the year." However, given the current situation with COVID-19, we were not able to celebrate as a large in-person gathering due to social distancing requirements, even though all 4 graduates live within the San Carlos Apache Reservation. Our task here was to create a memorable and meaningful online alternative to a traditional graduation ceremony that their friends and families could enjoy online.

This virtual event aired for the first time on Facebook and YouTube on Friday, June 5, at 10am Arizona Time. People tuned in to the premiere were able to react and leave comments in real-time. This event was in addition to the virtual commencement event hosted by our umbrella institution, Tohono O'odham Community College, which took place later on June 5, at 4pm Arizona Time.

Goals of Project

Celebrate the first graduating class of San Carlos Apache College in the time of COVID-19.

  • Adhere to best practices for COVID-19 mitigation.
  • Collect digital artifacts from graduates, to be compiled into a cohesive online presentation.
  • Provide a memorable and meaningful online experience, to be premiered online on June 5. 
  • Digitally archive and make available the artifacts of the commencement ceremony.

Pre-Production Tasks

  • Acquire 4K video camera(s), tripods, LED light panels, microphones.
  • Acquire teleprompter and train on usage.
  • Size, purchase, and distribute caps and gowns (for use in the videos).
  • Develop instructions for congratulatory videos from community members http://www.apachecollege.org/commencement/congratulate/
  • Invite guest speakers to record video speeches.
  • Record Apache drum songs and develop instructions for audience reaction videos. http://www.apachecollege.org/commencement/dance/
  • Develop proof of concept for Apache Star-Spangled Banner virtual choir
  • Develop instructions for Apache Star-Spangled Banner virtual choir http://www.apachecollege.org/commencement/singalong/
  • Schedule time for individual graduates to get their photo taken.
  • Plan virtual commencement program elements and order.

Video Production Tasks

  • Send out requests for recordings and instructions to graduates.
  • Send out requests for recordings and instructions to community members. http://www.apachecollege.org/commencement/
  • Film graduates processional, receiving diplomas, recessional, cap toss.
  • Film short speeches by each graduate.
  • Take photos of graduates in cap and gown.
  • Load speeches into teleprompter and practice with presenter to set pace.
  • Film President and Provost speeches.
  • Film Keynote speaker speech.
  • Film opening prayer.
  • Film Chairman's remarks.
  • Film singers for virtual choir mix.
  • Collect video remarks by various speakers. Collect full names and titles.
  • Film MC introducing and reacting to each program element

Post-Production Tasks

  • Determine program order for video.
  • Mix virtual choir tracks.
  • Create congratulatory montage for marketing.
  • Add lower thirds with presenter names and titles.
  • Add persistent Commencement logo / watermark throughout video.
  • Subtitle segments as appropriate.
  • Cut out non-essential / redundant segments of speeches and congratulatory videos.
  • Define consistent transition / wipe for bridging gaps.
  • Produce Apache drum and dancing montage.
  • Export overnight drafts on a daily basis as backup.

Marketing Tasks

  • Advertise online event via all media channels.
  • Create printed program to be distributed to Tribal departments and graduates and families.
  • Premiere and livestream any prerecorded content on the official day of our commencement on Facebook and YouTube. Simultaneously broadcast audio track via local radio.
  • On the day of the event, maybe we host a virtual viewing party so that people can meet via Zoom to watch and react as the event unfolds? (Need to think through feasibility and risks.)
  • Moderate Facebook Live comments.
  • Make sure livestreamed content is readily available online for viewing at a later time (along with any additional relevant material that didn't make it to livestream).
  • Poll about in-person followup event beyond the virtual event, at a later time, when circumstances allow?

Project Outcomes

Here are the results of our Commencement project:




  • Response from the community was extremely favorable. The Commencement video was praised by both the SCAC Administration, SCAC graduates, San Carlos Tribal Chairman, and many participants who were anxious to see how the project would turn out and how it would represent them.
  • Several viewers, including graduates, expressed that they'd wished they'd participated in more of the video callouts. Despite the multiple webpages describing the various callouts and the desired deliverables, along with proof-of-concept videos, several people mentioned that they would've been more willing to participate in the group activities had they better understood the concept or that they weren't expected to "do it by themselves." For example, here is the final result of the montage of community members dancing along to the Apache drum song:
  • Last minute submissions made it difficult to "lock down" the final video to prepare for export and upload to social media channels. However, it was also hard to refuse to use late entries, as each additional asset added to the breadth of the final product.
  • The final video was just under 1 hour 20 minutes long, and was roughly 8.5GB at 1080P resolution.
  • Several of the program segments, including the Star-Spangled Banner in Apache, the Apache drumming and dance montage, and speeches, can be parceled out and reposted as their own standalone piece of content.