College graduations work around -- even embrace -- social media

 Graduates take a selfie
Loyola University students in New Orleans take a selfie during their graduation ceremony at Mercedes-Benz Superdome May 10. Students were encouraged to post their Instagram and Twitter pictures using the hashtag #Loyola2014 and the images were uploaded onto Jumbotron television screens in the arena. (CNS photo/Kyle Encar, courtesy Loyola University)

By Carol Zimmermann

College graduation ceremonies are caught between pomp and circumstance.

They need to honor their graduates and maintain a sense of decorum, but their celebrations also are primarily for young people -- a group that has grown up with social media and isn't afraid to use it.

But taking selfies at graduation ceremonies? Is that crossing a line?

At least two colleges thought so. This year Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, and the University of South Florida in Tampa banned selfies on stage to move the ceremonies along more quickly.

Some schools didn't blatantly enforce a no-cellphone-photo-zone on stage, but they did at least encourage students to resist the urge to take these pictures -- particularly while receiving diplomas and shaking hands with the college president or dean of students. The suggestion was given not just in the interest of time but as a way to keep the event more dignified.

Other colleges, realizing that holding back the selfie tide could be akin to asking students not to write on their graduation caps, urged graduates to take all the photos they want during the ceremony and post them online with the school's hashtag.

The Loyola University New Orleans took this approach even a step further.

During the school's May 10 graduation, students were encouraged to post their Instagram and Twitter pictures using the hashtag #Loyola2014 and these images -- moderated of course -- were uploaded onto Jumbotron television screens in the arena, smaller screens on stage and also on television screens at the concession stands until they were replaced with live feed of the actual ceremony.

Mikel Pak, Loyola's associate director of public affairs, said the university received more than 600 photos in three hours for the live display at graduation.

Loyola, like many other colleges, also posted a live stream of the graduation on its website.

Those who attend the June 13 graduation at Santa Clara University in California will notice something other than photo snapping. The commencement ceremony will be water-bottle free; every graduate will be given a reusable water bottle filled with water.

Graduates also have been urged to sign a pledge for social and environmental responsibility, saying they will "take into account the social and environmental consequences" of whatever job they consider and "try to improve these aspects of any organizations" where they might work.

Also on hand at the graduation ceremony, as always, will be landfill, recycling and compost containers for waste.

At the May 23 graduation at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, students will get a sense of something that pre-dates water bottle concerns and the social media deluge: old-fashioned advice in a book.

Members of the class of 1964, celebrating their 50th reunion, put together a book for graduates aptly called: "What We've Learned: Advice From the Holy Cross Class of 1964 to the Class of 2014."

Some of that advice could fit in the Twitter parameters of 140 characters or less:

-- "Money, or being in the highest post, is not necessarily the best thing for happiness."

-- "Remember your humanity in the quest for wealth and success."

-- "Don't be so risk-averse that you're afraid to make mistakes, but never make the same mistake twice."

And to put it all in perspective, one 1964 alum wrote: "As proud as you are to graduate from Holy Cross, you will be even more proud in 50 years."

And hopefully these graduates will have a photo or two of themselves on hand from this ceremony 50 years from now.

Catholic News Service – May 14, 2014