18 brands getting in on virtual graduations and proms (with a slew of celebs)
This month, more than 3 million high school seniors will be missing the milestone of walking in their graduation ceremonies, with the COVID-19 pandemic having uprooted the U.S. school system, making online learning the new normal for students.
All is not lost, however. Brands such as Chase, Natural Light and Doritos, along with platforms like Facebook, Instagram and iHeartMedia have stepped up to help fill the void by throwing virtual graduation celebrations to celebrate the Class of 2020. Many are emphasizing the tradition of commencement speeches by partnering with celebrities and inspiring individuals to make sure those graduating don’t miss out on these ritual experiences.
Proms are another fun milestone for graduating students that have been erased from the calendar this May, and brands like Jack in the Box and Chipotle are trying to fill in the blanks with virtual events. Scroll down for prom events.
VIRTUAL GRADUATION EVENTS
Facebook and Instagram
Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram are planning a multi-hour, celebrity-filled streaming graduation event featuring Oprah Winfrey as commencement speaker. Stars like Awkwafina, Lil Nas X, Jennifer Garner and Simone Biles will join Winfrey, along with a performance from Miley Cyrus, to celebrate the graduating class of 2020. The event, called “Graduation2020: Facebook and Instagram Celebrate the Class of 2020,” will air on Facebook Watch on May 15 at 11 a.m. PT and on the Facebook App account. Instagram will share clips of the commencement, as will the celebs themselves.
Facebook is asking for video and photo submissions from students, parents and educators who want to be part of the event. The deadline for submissions is May 8 at 9 p.m. PT.
Leading up to the main event, Facebook is also sharing ways families and friends can host their own virtual graduation celebrations using its new “Rooms” product. Instagram will be sharing content of high school senior experiences and will bring graduation-related stickers, AR effects and a hashtag page #Graduation2020 to the app.
XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation and The Entertainment Industry Foundation
Education advocacy group XQ Institute, The LeBron James Family Foundation and The Entertainment Industry Foundation will host former President Barack Obama, who will deliver a televised commencement address for those graduating in the midst of the pandemic, on May 16 at 8 p.m. EDT. The hour-long event, called “Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020,” will air on ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC, as well as more than 20 other broadcast and streaming channels, including TikTok, Facebook and YouTube.
“Graduate Together” will feature high school students from Chicago public schools, as well as famous faces like LeBron James, Malala Yousafzai, Ben Platt, Pharrell Williams, The Jonas Brothers and others. With dedicated social pages, the hashtag #GraduateTogether, and celebs’ own social posts, the event is encouraging people to share their graduation stories, senior photos and videos to be included in the event.
YouTube will also air its own graduation ceremony on June 6 at 12 p.m. PDT with addresses from former President Barack Obama, as well as Michelle Obama. “Dear Class of 2020” will also feature speeches from Lady Gaga, BTS, former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai and Malala Yousafzai. BTS will perform at a virtual after-party, where Alicia Keys, Kelly Rowland, Kerry Washington, Chloe x Halle, The Try Guys and others will make appearances.
The event can be seen on YouTube Originals channel and YouTube’s [email protected] site, where graduates can also sign up for shoutouts during the event. YouTube is partnering with Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative, Born This Way Foundation, Malala Fund, NBC’s “Today” and Ideas United to share student stories as well as a crowd-sourced commencement speech.
Barack Obama is also participating in Chase’s #ShowMeYourWalk ongoing virtual commencement campaign. On May 16 at 2 p.m. EDT, the former president will join a live commencement celebration for the graduating class of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) hosted on Chase’s Twitter account. Obama tweeted about the event along with the XQ Institute he has scheduled for the same day.
Chase’s #ShowMeYourWalk campaign began on May 2 when the bank partnered with sports stars Serena Williams and Stephen Curry, and comedian Kevin Hart for a live virtual commencement celebration. Jamie Dimon, chairman and CEO of JPMorgan Chase & Co., kicked off the event, before handing off to the celebs for their words of encouragement and congratulations, as well as shoutouts from viewers.
Since then, Chase has been encouraging Class of 2020 graduates to share the “walks” they would have taken at their actual graduation ceremonies with fellow grads and Chase. Williams, Hart and Curry are sharing their own walks and reposting their favorites. Chase is promoting the effort across its social channels and Google search.
Following Obama’s address to the HBCU edition of Chase’s #ShowMeYourWalk campaign, Hennessy is sponsoring a live grad party hosted by DJ D-Nice. The event will also be sponsored by the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF). In 2019, Hennessy launched a $10 million Hennessy Fellows program that provides financial assistance to HBCU grad students. Along with sponsoring the event, the liquor brand will be launching an online academy for HBCU students.
Ahead of “National Graduation Day” (May 17), iHeartMedia is developing a graduation-related podcast event where celebs like Jimmy Fallon, Eli Manning, Hillary Clinton, John Legend and others will give motivational and inspirational speeches to graduates unable to attend their planned commencement ceremonies. “Commencement: Speeches for the Class of 2020” will be available on iHeartRadio, podcast channels and radio stations across the U.S. on May 15.
“These are the speakers our graduates would have had at their real-world ceremonies, if not for current circumstances, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring them together through this podcast,” says Conal Byrne, president of the iHeartPodcast Network in a statement.
Doritos is getting in on iHeartMedia’s “Commencement: Speeches for the Class of 2020” podcast with its own campaign called “Doritos Valedictorian.” Doritos will pick five speeches from graduating seniors to be heard among the voices of celebrities who will be giving their own commencement speeches.
The chip brand redefined the definition of “valedictorian” for this campaign, placing less importance on GPA and inviting anyone who had something to say to send a video speech by May 4. Speeches were judged by impact and inclusivity. Doritos plans to give $50,000 to each of the five selected seniors.
“Doritos is a brand that’s long been about giving a platform and voice to that next generation, so we wanted to help take that platform to the next level,” said Marissa Solis, senior VP of marketing, Frito-Lay North America in a statement.
Anheuser-Busch InBev-owned beer brand Natural Light is throwing its own commencement ceremony on May 14 via Facebook Live, hosted by actress, entrepreneur and activist Amanda Cerny. Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban, sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, actress Jane Lynch and Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini will give speeches starting at 7 p.m. EDT and graduating seniors across the country will be highlighted.
Seniors can sign up on the event's microsite for a chance to hear their names featured during the event. Before the event, Natural Light will announce further news on how it plans to help seniors prepare for life after graduation.
Freeform, one of the networks airing the televised event featuring Barack Obama, has also scheduled a weekend full graduation-themed programming and content on social media, with the hashtag #FreeformClassof2020, on May 16 and 17. Graduating seniors can also submit their names online to run on-air during the programming. Freeform is calling the weekend “Funday” and will air Disney and Pixar movies like “Inside Out” and “Monsters University.”
P&G’s Aussie Hair Care and Her Campus Media
P&G’s Aussie Hair Care is partnering with Her Campus Media for a virtual live graduation event “I’m Still Graduating” on May 15 at 12 p.m. EST. The event will feature Eva Longoria, Jesse McCartney, Billie Jean King and other prominent names. First Aid Beauty and Sallie Mae are also sponsoring the event.
VIRTUAL PROM EVENTS
Jack in the Box
Jack in the Box has an out-of-the-box remedy for graduating seniors’ prom blues with “Prom in the Box.” The fast food chain is working with creative agency Cashmere’s new digital experience division Nice Sweater to host a live DJ set with Diplo and Dillon Francis, hosted by YouTube influencer Jesse Wellens.
The event kicks off on Zoom, IGTV and Twitch on May 9 at 5 p.m. PDT. Two schools in Los Angeles—John H. Francis Polytechnic High School and RHP and Renaissance—have also been chosen to participate. They will be surprised with goodies and Jack in the Box Tiny Tacos. The brand has partnered with Uber Eats, 1-800-Flowers, Black Tux, Lulus and Higher Education Skincare to supply coupons for their services with promo codes given during the event.
“We know our customers, more than ever, are consuming digital content, specifically livestreams. As a brand that prides itself on having a pulse on culture, we wanted to make sure an important moment like prom wasn’t taken away from high school seniors,” says Adrienne Ingoldt, senior VP and chief brand and experience officer, Jack in the Box. “So we un-cancelled prom and created a virtual experience for two lucky schools.”
Teen Vogue with Axe and OGX
Many readers of Teen Vogue are likely disappointed about losing the chance to attend their prom night, so the Condé Nast publication is partnering with Axe and OGX to host its own Virtual Prom on Zoom on May 16 at 8 p.m. EDT, with a customized playlist, special Zoom backgrounds and surprise cameos from celebrities like Chloe x Halle, H.E.R., Dylan Sprouse and TikTok influencers. High schools have already been selected to take part, but anyone is invited to watch. The event will be hosted by Teen Vogue Editor in Chief Lindsay Peoples Wagner.
Teen Vogue will also host an online commencement ceremony on May 31, presented by Adobe. The event will feature Stacey Abrams, Jameela Jamil, Aly Raisman, Tracee Ellis Ross, Noor Tagouri, Anna Wintour. Teen Vogue is also partnering with TED to select one graduating senior from a high school and one graduating senior from a college to give their own commencement speeches during the event.
Chipotle is hosting Teen Vogue’s virtual prom after party on Instagram Live on May 16 at 9:45 p.m. EDT, which will feature interactive games, social media lenses and free Chipotle promo codes. Chipotle has created its own Instagram account for the event and at the end of the party, YouTuber David Dobrik is giving away a $25,000 scholarship to one follower who comments on the first post with a graduation cap emoji.
Chipotle has also teamed up with DIY influencer Sophie Parker @wifenyc who will show how to create corsages and boutonnieres using materials from Chipotle restaurants; and e.l.f. Cosmetics to create a burrito-inspired cosmetics kit. One hundred of the kits will be available for purchase on Chipotle’s Instagram account and e.l.f. Cosmetics’ online store.
Correction: Based on information provided by Chipotle, the after party begins at 9:45 p.m. ET, not 6 p.m. as the brand previously stated.
Ahead of DJing Hennessy’s grad after-party on May 16, DJ D-Nice will be spinning tunes for video-chatting app Houseparty’s live prom at 8 p.m. EDT on May 7. Instagram influencer Zack Bia will be the host.
Instagram is sharing tips from influencers on how to make the most of an at-home prom and has introduced Stories stickers and AR effects with the hashtag #InstaProm.
Contributing: Jessica Wohl and E.J. Schultz