Virtual graduation ceremonies and campuses evoke presence

[Below are two stories about efforts to use presence-evoking technology to replace the experience of in-person graduation ceremonies (and other aspects of campus life) that have been displaced by the Coronavirus. The first story, about elementary students using Minecraft, is from Parentology; SoraNews24 adds these reactions from “Japanese netizens”:

“The kids are all right.”
“Parents are doing ‘telework’ and kids are doing ‘telegraduation.’”
“I’m so jealous of what awesome things kids have these day.”
“Those who say video games are bad, look at this!”
“This will probably be an even better memory than a regular graduation for them.”

NBC’s Today adds details about the student who started the effort, and all of these stories include more pictures and/or videos. The Parentology story alludes to Purdue University’s earlier plan to add a virtual component to their regular graduation ceremony; more details about that are available from Purdue’s website. And a story from NJ.com describes, and has a video of, a “mock college graduation” held by New Jersey students before they left campus.

–Matthew]

Quarantined Students Host Virtual Graduations

By Kaitlin Aquino
March 20, 2020

Students around the world have been forced to stay at home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Many schools have even elected to remain closed until the end of the year. But what does this mean for students who were set to graduate?

In Japan, schools have mandated closures effective until after spring break, meaning all graduating students must miss their graduation ceremonies, which would have taken place in late March. A class of quarantined elementary students came up with an adorable, virtual solution: holding a graduation ceremony in Minecraft.

Entirely of their own volition, without the help of administration or teachers, these elementary kids organized the graduation they were scheduled to have in Minecraft.

Twitter user @backyennew posted a photo showcasing the Minecraft graduation ceremony hall his son built with his friends. “They spent all day online together playing games and laughing. I’m glad they all had fun,” he wrote.

The virtual ceremony hall they built also looks considerably accurate to a real-life one. The high-ceiling building is big and brightly-lit. Enormous windows scale the walls. A bright red carpet lines the middle aisle, serving as a walkway for the graduates.

In the same vein, US schools have also considered making their graduation ceremonies virtual. While they aren’t necessarily opting to host them on Minecraft, colleges have been entertaining the idea of adapting their commencement ceremonies for the screen.

The University of California, Irvine (UCI) and the University of Californa, Los Angeles (UCLA) recently announced the cancellation of their respective commencement ceremonies and revealed plans for making graduation a virtual ceremony. But after facing backlash from students in the form of multiple petitions, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block reneged the school’s decision to cancel commencement on Thursday. He apologized for not consulting students first before making his decision and expressed intent to communicate with student leadership in developing a new solution for commencement.

“We are committed to giving students the commencement they deserve,” Block wrote in his message to the UCLA community posted to Twitter. “We should have known the tremendous impact that this decision would have on our students and their loved ones and friends.”

While UCLA has listened to students and gone back to the drawing board, UCI has proceeded to explore the possibility of hosting a virtual ceremony. The decision has left many graduating seniors devastated, especially first-generation students who view commencement as symbolic to their unprecedented academic achievement.

While hosting a virtual college graduation ceremony has been done before, the circumstances under which these online ceremonies will take place are completely new. These Minecraft graduates are a heartfelt reminder that social distancing and self-isolation during a time as difficult as this one doesn’t necessarily have to take away all that we were looking forward to.

[From ABC News, where the original includes more pictures.]

[Image: Ruby Allison and his classmates created this replica of his New York City high school in Minecraft. Credit: Ruby Allison]

High school students build replica of their school in Minecraft to host prom, graduation virtually

“It feels like we’re being returned to the normal functioning of school.”

By Katie Kindelan
March 20, 2020

As students across the United States are forced to attend school at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, they are finding creative ways to stay in touch.

Students at Hunter College High, a public high school in New York City, have spent dozens of hours creating a virtual scale model of their high school in the video game Minecraft so they can feel like they’re back at school and later hold events like prom and graduation virtually.

“People have spent a whole lot of time working on it and have really come together over it,” said Ruby Allison, 17, a senior at Hunter College High. “For just a second, it feels like we’re being returned to the normal functioning of school.”

Hunter College High, a public high school, closed its doors to students around two weeks ago, a sudden end to the high school careers of seniors like Allison if the school sticks with its current online-only learning for the rest of the school year.

“In some ways, it’s like I was going to college anyways, I was going to be gone from all these people but it’s the suddenness with which it happened,” said Allison. “I was ready to say a goodbye anyway but it didn’t happen when or how I expected.”

Feeling distant from her classmates, Allison created a channel for the senior class in a messaging app. From there, she and other students had the idea to try to recreate their school in Minecraft, a video game that Allison has been using since around age 8.

Allison and a dozen classmates used Google Earth to get the layout of Hunter College High and then built a 3-D version of the school brick-by-brick in Minecraft.

“As I was walking through it [in Minecraft], just walking around the environment, it was this drastic return to normality for me, just walking through the doors,” said Allison. “And I think it’s a thing, especially since we’re stuck at home with nothing to do, that gives people something to take their mind off everything that’s going on.”

If New York City public schools continue to remain closed, Allison and her classmates plan to hold a virtual prom and virtual graduation ceremony in Minecraft and livestream it so that all of their classmates can join.

The students are also keeping in touch through technology in other ways, holding online movie nights and playing online party games, where one person streams the game and everyone else can play along on their phones, according to Allison.

The social interaction they’re getting online is helping to ease the fact that so many senior class traditions like a class beach day and a class grill-out are likely not going to happen.

“There are downsides to technology — when we were in person I had issues with people being on their phone too much — but people are taking what they have and making the best of it,” said Allison. “I think it’s really valuable for people to be able to look at these online spaces as legitimate social spaces.”

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