Celebrating Students in the Time of Social Distancing
By Matt Hager
For students who earn scholarships, the award is often the culmination of years of hard work, focus and sacrifice. Receiving a scholarship means their educational and career goals are more within reach, and it means lowering the financial hurdles that could keep them from accomplishing their dream or entering their chosen field. It’s a cause for celebration — not just for the student, but for their families and friends who have helped them along the way.
In most years, organizations collaborate with schools to bring students together, celebrate their achievements and reward scholarships in an in-person ceremony. But as the COVID pandemic continues to impact plans, the culmination of the 2021 school year may see a continuation of virtual events. If you’re planning on awarding scholarships and you want to take your celebration online, here are some ways to spotlight (or even surprise) your award-winners as they are forced to stay at home.
Virtual Meetings or Online Award Ceremonies
Most of us are becoming very familiar with the intricacies of Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, WebEx and GoToMeeting, and these remote meeting tools could be used to surprise a student with the scholarship award. Think of it as a virtual alternative to bringing a student into an office with their family to surprise them with a scholarship: set up a meeting with the student under the innocuous guise of gathering or confirming more information, but surprise them with the announcement (and don’t forget to record their reaction!)
This can also be an option for organizations to bring together a large group of people for a virtual ceremony. Platforms like the ones above are conducive to a structured agenda and captive audience; you can bring in students and presenters via webcam and build a program featuring speakers, presentations and even music if coordinated well. (Check out the Garden of Dreams Foundation’s virtual alumni talent show for inspiration!)
While this option can succeed in bringing everyone together, there’s some work to do ahead of time. Before planning or scheduling, make sure your presenters and students have stable internet connections and a computer or smartphone that works with your chosen platform. In addition, ensure that everyone with a part to play feels comfortable being on camera with other groups of people. Rehearsals prior to the scheduled celebration to test equipment would be essential.
Pre-recorded Announcement or Celebration Videos
Most students who achieve success also make an impact on people throughout their lives. As they focus on their education, they may not realize the inspiration they give to others. To announce a scholarship winner or celebrate awardees, think about how you can bring those voices together to recognize the student. You’ll illustrate the community impact of scholarships and send a profound message to the students themselves.
To make it happen, reach out to recipients’ parents or guardians and enlist their help in contacting friends, family members, teachers, coaches or religious leaders to record brief statements about the students who are being awarded. Using in-house video capabilities (or outsourcing to local professionals or volunteers), you can compile a video for each student that celebrates the impact they have had on people throughout their lives. Want to double the impact? Record the student’s reaction as they watch the video, and ask them a few follow-up questions for a thank-you statement.
Partner with Community Businesses
University athletic programs have used this tactic to surprise their players with scholarships; your organization can take their idea and make it your own. With delivery businesses being among the few ways of making physical contact, they’re a natural partner to “deliver” scholarship surprises. Reach out to relevant restaurants, delivery services or other businesses in your community to coordinate the logistics, and work with roommates, siblings or parents/guardians to get their reaction on video.
Need some inspiration? Amazon has delivered scholarship announcements through non-descript Amazon boxes and recorded the responses of the students; in past years, Burger King has surprised their $50,000 BK Scholars by having their parents deliver the news while on camera. With a little thinking outside (or inside) the box, you can create a safe and surprising way to announce scholarships at a distance.
Yard, Door and Drive-By Celebrations
If you’re predominantly serving students in one local area, an announcement in their front lawn or doorstep — or as a drive-by parade — would be a surprising and unique way to announce or celebrate the students. These types of announcements have made news for birthdays, thank-yous and other celebrations during this time of social distancing and would certainly make an impact on students.
The key factor that runs through each of these ideas is our need to celebrate the achievements of students. This class of scholarship recipients is currently managing through circumstances no other class has ever had to face, and each day adds more uncertainty to their educational futures. Developing unique and creative ways to celebrate them and helping them feel more secure in difficult times can go a long way.
Need help coordinating a virtual celebration? Have another idea that would help celebrate students? Get in touch and let us know!