Many BYU students and professors celebrated graduation virtually via Zoom calls or Facebook Live. Students from BYU’s student-run digital marketing agency, Y Digital, did something a little different.
School of Communications professor and Y Digital director Adam Durfee wanted to do something to still give his students a meaningful experience as “the pivotal part of the conclusion of college” — so he created a digital graduation ceremony through Club Penguin.
The idea to use an online multiplayer game came from one of Durfee’s Y Digital students, Chaz Gonzales.
Durfee said though he had never before used Club Penguin, the idea stuck with him because it was different and unique.
“I thought ‘that could be quirky, that could be weird, that could be fun,'” he said. “The fact that someone was suggesting some sort of online platform other than a video call, I think that’s what was most interesting to me.”
With some research, Durfee was able to track down the founder of Club Penguin, who agreed to provide Durfee’s students with a virtual celebration.
Over the next few weeks, the game designers built a private graduation hall, featuring a stage and a red carpet, and designed caps and gowns for the “first Club Penguin graduates in history.”
On the day of graduation, Durfee, his students and family members and friends — well over 100 people — gathered on Zoom to first hear from two student speakers and from Durfee. All the students then logged onto Club Penguin to participate in the virtual graduation. One by one, they were called to “waddle” their penguins across the stage, collect their diplomas and wave to the crowd. The Club Penguin founder even made a surprise appearance at the online ceremony, during which she encouraged the graduates to always stay in touch with their youthful side.
“We didn’t want the students to miss out on the opportunity to have 10 seconds in the spotlight to walk across to be recognized,” Durfee said. “This platform allowed us to give them that moment.”
Durfee said another meaningful part about the Club Penguin ceremony was how supportive the students were of each other. Unlike a typical graduation where a graduate just walks across the stage and people clap, and then onto the next, the Club Penguin online graduation allowed each “student penguin” to type comments into their speech bubble as each individual student walked across the stage.
“There was something so meaningful about watching all of these students comment and complement each other,” Durfee said. “I don’t think that’s an experience a traditional, real-life graduation would ever give them.”
Public relations graduate Becca Reher agreed.
“Those are things that you don’t get to do in a normal graduation,” she said. “All of your close friends and people that you’ve actually worked with that know how deserving you are of this ceremony, you got to see all of their comments them saying, ‘Oh, she’s the best at this’ and you got to screenshot those comments … and cherish those, and I think that was really special.”
Reher said when she first heard the idea to celebrate graduation on an online game she played as a child, she thought it was a joke. But once she got on board, she wanted to help make the celebration as memorable as possible.
“We decided that if we couldn’t have this feel as normal as possible, we wanted to make it as ridiculous and memorable as possible. And that’s definitely what we did,” she said.
Public relations student Darnel Apelu, who is graduating in December, aided in planning and executing the event for his peers. He said he thought the biggest concern students had with doing virtual celebrations was not getting the same type of closure as they would with a traditional ceremony. However, after the Club Penguin celebration, Apelu said he saw many people talking on social media about how unique it was and how happy they were able to have “a more intimate setting with all of Y Digital.”
Apelu said he thought the celebration fit with Y Digital’s brand.
“It was unique and it was funny, but it kind of just fit with our brand at Y Digital, just doing things differently,” he said.
Advertising graduate Chaz Gonzales, the originator of the idea, agreed that the celebration fit their brand, adding that it showcased their abilities to find creative solutions and to adapt to certain situations.
“We feel that it’s very appropriate that we evolve according to the circumstances we find ourselves in. Just like we have a pandemic, it’s not going to stop us from finding a creative solution. We found a creative solution through a virtual graduation,” he said. “It’s a fun thing that we enjoyed together, but it’s a great example of how we work together to find creative solutions.”
In the end, Gonzales said it was just a fun and wholesome experience to celebrate virtually with his classmates and friends.
“We were a whole bunch of friends who wanted to appreciate an important moment in our lives,” he said.