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Graduation Ideas

Rebecca Morgan

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I'm having a graduation ceremony for a group I've done a seminar with each month for 10 months. The 40 people will have their bosses (the execs) there too. If you've had ceremonies/celebrations for long-term groups, please share ideas for activities that worked.

-- Rebecca Morgan

What I did:

  • Had certificates of appreciation for each of the execs present, as well as a copy of a book I co-wrote on leadership.
  • Had goodie bags for all grads, which included 2 of my tapes, one of my books, a note pad w/my info on it, a 3x5 reminder card and my business card.
  • Each participant received either a certificate of completion, or, if they attended fewer than 70% of the sessions, a certificate of participation.
  • Groups of 3-4 did a 2-minute presentation on one of the 10 modules. These were preassigned, along w/their co-presenters, 2 months in advance.
  • I had an Academy Award theme, so the hotel set the tables festively with black linen, mirror and votive center pieces. I brought Academy Award center pieces as well.
  • Each person voted for the "best of" in 6 categories (e.g., best participation in classes, best humor, best applicability of the concepts). I put the recipients' names and award on a 79-cent loving cup bought at a party store and presented it to each person, along with a certificate of award. By having them vote for each other it was more meaningful than if I picked.
  • The CEO, COO and I all made short speeches about the program.
  • We had a gourmet buffet ahead of time. The program was to go from 12:30-2:00 and some groups arrived at 11:00 to practice their presentation! Most everyone (but the CEO) was there by 12:30 and so we got started on time.

-- Jean Palmer

I've made specific awards for each individual, based on what we taught during the program. For example, I gave out awards for most improved, most intriguing examples, most creative input, funniest story, most willing to share, etc. which allowed me to talk and reminisce about the training. The audience yuks it up and cheers because they remember those stories/bonding experiences.

I give them the award in a plexiglass, self-standing frameless picture frame (which, by the way, are somewhat hard to pack because they don't sit flat but are at a 45 degree angle). Instead of putting in a picture, I put in a custom-designed award, with my logo, the name of the seminar, the name of the award and the name of the recipient. You could also put their picture in it if you've taken any during the training. I print it out on gold foil card stock that fits the size of the frame. Looks classy, but doesn't cost much. In fact, it's much cheaper than getting a trophy and lasts longer than giving out the standard cheap paper awards.

-- Janet Stephenson

Each member of the graduating group is given a list with all members of the group on the left and on the right side of the page room to write one positive statement about the person. Ideas include: what the person brought to the seminar, what I learned from X, what X will be able to take back to his or her firm, etc. Comments are collated for each individual. Photos added to the top of each individual sheet and a group pic at the front -- everyone gets a copy of good memories, positive talk and looking good in front of their exec.

-- Diana Royce Smith

Here's something that has worked well for me. You know these people pretty well, and probably you've noted their distinctive characteristics and contributions.

I keep a stash of promo items, kids party thing-ies, and little finds (like Cathy cartoon Post-It pads, coasters that say "the buck stops here", small candles) and a list of possible presentation lines, adaptable to various circumstances -- at least it gets my creative juices started when I spend an hour making up the list for a particular ceremony. If budgets allow, step up the quality of the items.

Example: a kaleidoscope for Sally, "who always helps us see things in a new and different way".

On the back of Sally's certificate, I either print or handwrite her presentation line. During graduation exercises, Sally gets her certificate and her gift, delivered with the appropriate presentation line.

Normally, every single participant recognizes the appropriateness of this item for Sally. So everyone sits on the edge of their seat to find out what you have for each of them, especially their own gift. I have learned the gifts are so rich in symbolism, so inspiring to people, that they are given treasured office desktop and window ledge spots of honor.

This locks in your reputation as someone who has come to know them well, a valued resource for enhancing their capabilities, and a fine human being. It sure perks up what might otherwise be a mere formality, and a bit of a let-down, at the end of a great experience.

-- Tom Terrific

  1. Music: You could use the standard or your own jazzed up music.
  2. Certificates/diplomas: Always desirable - people like to display those pieces of paper.
  3. Costume: you could dress in a graduation costume and hand out the diplomas.
  4. I always like to have everyone stand and repeat what I say, and then have them shake hands with the people around them. It's always a winner.
  5. You could go around the room and have each person mention one tip they found valuable. Make sure they know about this ahead of time.
  6. Refreshments: always nice to have.

-- Larry Bates

Don't know how much time you have allowed for the ceremony, but as a minimum I always

  • Provide attractive Certificates of Completion/Achievement
  • Have the attendees' bosses/executives present the certificate (much more impressive than if the facilitator does it)
  • Have a photographer available (usually provided by the PR or Human Resources Departments) to take pictures -- group and/or individual -- of the event.
  • Send pictures of the event and a small write-up to the company newsletter or in-house magazine. (Graduates love to see themselves in the news, and it's a great marketing tool for future seminars.
  • Request the "Grand Kahuna" (senior exec.) say a few words of thank you, congratulations, and the importance of the material in the seminar to the entire organization, to the attendees.

With 15-20 graduates, I was able to do all the above in the last 15-25 minutes of the final session of class.

Other options if appropriate: crepe paper streamers and decorations, snacks, and small gifts with your logo on them.

-- Ilene Dillon

Since you're celebrating the accomplishments of the people in the class, and people LOVE to hear about themselves, how about taking time to either:

  • Go around the group and have 10 people tell a story about another participant whose achievement/action/learning they'd like to celebrate.
  • Pre-select people to share stories like these (perhaps they have commented on something to you previously), especially focusing on people who were "less seen" than others, etc.

You might also pick the very best achievement of each person, and create an "award ribbon," announcing it (and the best achievement) at the time of having them pass on-stage to obtain their diplomas/certificates. "Most helpful for...." "Most improved for...." "Most congenial because...." "Most inspiring by...." "Most responsible because...." etc. You get the idea.

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