From the Nominator
When COVID-19 forced the university to scratch plans for an in-person graduation ceremony in spring 2020, Texas Woman’s University’s commencement committee developed a one-of-a-kind graduation celebration held Dec. 11-12. Graduates from May, August, and December 2020 took a victory lap at Fort Worth’s Texas Motor Speedway as part of the university’s two-day drive-thru commencement ceremonies. At the finish line, graduates exited their cars, then crossed the racetrack’s checkered stripe, hoisting their diploma covers while cameras flashed. It was an exhilarating experience for the nearly 1,300 pandemic-weary graduates and their families, who were invited to participate.
The idea for this event was conceived when university officials, after hearing from spring graduates disappointed with the virtual May commencement, searched for a way to accommodate requests for in-person ceremonies. Priorities included having families involved, while following COVID-19 social distancing and mask-wearing protocols.
Each student was permitted two carloads, and organizers separated each day’s events into specific times by college, allowing for students to visit with their peers in the parking lot after leaving the track. Additionally, the event was livestreamed, so family and friends who could not be at the event could watch from home.
Social media and news coverage of the event exceeded expectations, with the news story picked up by media outlets across the country, resulting in more than $75,000 in earned media for the university. The event proved so popular with graduates and their families that the university plans to repeat the event for May 2021’s commencement.
From the Judges
The overall unique style of this event made a lasting impression on the judges. It wasn't just “uniquely Texas,” but unique in general. They carried out the idea and creativity through every element (checkered flag, promotional materials, etc.) which brought the event to life. It was a large effort, and lots of moving pieces that required a great deal of organization, while maintaining a smaller end budget. The engagement with audience views, social media, and overall attendance was impressive, given the switch from an in-person graduation to a COVID-friendly experience.