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Graduation Planning 101

Tips for Choosing Your Graduation Vendors


(AND EVERYONE ELSE YOU’LL NEED TO WORK WITH ALONG THE WAY)


Speeches, Songs, Photos, Videos, Awards, Gowns, Diplomas, and Covers are some of the major components you’ll need for a successful graduation ceremony. It wouldn’t help to have a guide to assist you with hiring various individuals and vendors you’ll need to pull this off.


In this article, we give you the abridged list of graduation vendors and partners you’ll need to enlist. Some people coordinate marching bands and fireworks; we won’t address those topics here.


However, we do encourage you to arrange whatever your heart desires. We are big fans of celebrating achievements, so feel free to go a little crazy.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding a Commencement Speaker

One of the most important tasks you’ll undertake in planning a graduation ceremony is choosing the best commencement speaker. Schools want to select someone to speak at their graduation that will impart a great lesson to their students and also serve as an inspiration and an example for how they will mold their future lives; professionally and personally.


Don’t know how or where to find a commencement speaker? Your terrific commencement speaker is out there! Many would be happy you’ve invited them to your school for this important day.


Consider local community leaders, athletes, CEOs, or neighborhood hero who has done something amazing.


Timing Concerns

When asking speakers, you’ll want to keep in mind that speeches should fit within a particular time frame. Typically your Commencement Speakers talk should cap out at about 7 minutes. Time limits can vary depending on your school’s specific needs for the graduation ceremony.


Make sure to have your timings before you invite anyone to speak. Speakers need to know what they are getting themselves into beforehand, and will usually ask this question above all others. If you are uncertain, ask the last graduation coordinator for their suggestions.


Personally, we advise you set a limit of 18 minutes for any single speech. Our friends over at TED suggest that is the maximum length for an effective speech. For more tips to give your chosen speaker check out their article “THE BEST OF TED: 5 PUBLIC SPEAKING LESSONS FROM 30 YEARS OF SPREADING IDEAS”.


To give your speakers time to prepare, always send you invites (or make your calls) several weeks ahead of time. Your speakers will need some time to compose a great speech to deliver to your students. Start brainstorming today about whom to invite to speak at your ceremony.


Check out these great commencement speeches:



University of Texas – Admiral William H. McRaven




Harvard– J.K. Rowling




MUM 2014 – Jim Carrey




Stanford University – Steve Jobs


OUR BEST TIPS:


Make a list of 10 people you’d like to invite as a speaker for your graduation ceremony. Formally ask each by picking up the phone or sending a letter; sooner than later. Make sure you know the date and time of your graduation as well as the speech length before your invites.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding and Selecting Music

DJ’s, Bands, and Orchestras

Many schools enlist orchestra, choir, or band directors in the graduation planning process. It’s not always an easy feat to work out, considering some of the music group members will be graduating, and unable to perform with their underclassman. To mitigate such issues, many schools, especially smaller ones, will typically hire a DJ. To save money, many will enlist the help of audio club members instead. No matter which option you choose, you’ll need to let them know about your song choices in advance. Notably, you’ll need to let them know when to play each song, and how long to play each song. We advise you coordinate music cues as well as review the full event program with all music participants.


Music Selections

While it’s possible to work in a vacuum and pick the music on your own, we don’t recommend it. We advise you actively involve your senior class, school band, or orchestra when selecting graduation songs. Involving the students in song choice will help keep everyone excited about graduation.


You can choose traditional music, such as “pomp and circumstance” as many schools do. Or you can get creative and use modern, inspirational music.


To narrow down your song options, hand out a paper survey, create an online survey, or assemble a student committee. We advise the online survey option as it’s the easiest to pull off. With the online survey option, you can list the traditional songs as well as provide a space for students to leave a custom suggestion.


Songs to Select

An opening song

A song to walk across the stage to

Another song to close out graduation

The best graduation ceremonies are highly coordinated and well thought out. Take the time to choose terrific songs.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Check out this list of the top 20 graduation songs by Rolling Stone Magazine. Use them, and others you can think of, as options in your online survey.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding a Photographer/Videographer

The photographer/videographer is a critical graduation partner for the graduation coordinator to choose. Not only will the students enjoy these photos but so will their families, friends and future generations as they look upon this milestone event. We highly recommend you seek out a professional photographer that specializes in graduations.


There are many reasons you want a photographer with this type of particular experience. Try to find a photographer who has worked for schools that are similar to yours in size and age. If your graduating classes are for young children, it is beneficial to know the photographer will capture terrific shots of the graduates because they’ve worked with this age group and know exactly those perfect graduation not-to-be-missed moments everyone will want to remember.


Quite often you can contract with the same photographer who manages the photography for the school yearbook. Chances are, the more service you contract with one photographer, the more you can reduce the overall budget for photography.


Student Photography

If you want to stretch your school graduation budget just a bit further,  photography is an area where this may be possible. Does your school have a staff photographer or aspiring student photographers (i.e., part of a photography club)? If so, you may already have the photography equipment and personnel you need for your graduation ceremony.


Whichever route you chose, you should meet with them before the event. Specifically, note which parts of the event you would like them to photograph or ask them to submit a plan for you to review.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Make sure that whoever you employee to handle the photos and videos is tech and social savvy. Everyone wants to share, like, and post pictures of themselves from events like this. Set up a Facebook, an Eversnap, or some other social sharing group for all the photos and videos to be made publicly available. The students and their families will be very grateful that you did.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding a Venue

Usually, the venue for the graduation ceremony is within the school grounds, such as the auditorium, football field, or gym. However, if there is no available space in the school building, the coordinator will have to find a spacious venue elsewhere.


We recommend considering having your ceremonies indoors, as the weather can often add an unpredictable element potentially ruining the ceremony. Obviously, if you’re out in the desert rain is less of a concern than heat. No matter what the weather, it’s a pretty safe bet to have the event indoors.


Next, the coordinator should obtain quotations from prospective venues. Remember to not only check pricing that will make your administration smile but also to look at quality, top-notch customer service, lighting, sound systems available and available parking. Each of these factors will help to contribute for smooth sailing on graduation day.


Ensure Seating for All

There are a few “make or break” factors we recommend you look for when checking out venues for your graduation ceremony. One right at the top of the list is that the venue should comfortably accommodate all of your students, parents, teachers, and guests. Everyone should be able to sit down.


No graduation coordinator wants to hear about a student who has a family member travel a far distance to attend graduation, arrive late and end up standing. Sometimes that person has a real need for a seat such as the elderly or handicapped.


Setting Limits for Cars and People

The coordinator has to avoid getting a venue that is far from the school, difficult to get to, or has limited availability for public transportation. The venue should have ample parking, as each student could have family and friends that travel more than three cars each. Remember if you have a graduating class with 300 students, you’ll need to take into account how many guests they will have.


Some students have extended families who all want to come. Because of this, you may have to make a hard decision. Many schools distribute tickets with graduation invitations limiting the number of guests each student can invite. Planning will help you know exactly how many people you will need to accommodate.


Another suggestion for graduation day is to provide tickets for car parking. Sometimes space for cars can be a greater issue than space for people.


If the graduation ceremony takes place on school grounds, use all the same precautions regarding ticket distribution for both individuals and vehicles.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Think about the size of your graduating class and multiply that times four. Then add your staff to that count, and you have the total estimated number of guests. Divide that number by two, and now you have the estimated number of cars. Then list three places nearby that can accommodate both people and cars should you school not qualify,


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Graduation Vendors: Finding a Cap & Gown Supplier

The coordinator can easily find a cap and gown vendor by browsing the internet. You can look at caps & gowns and pick and choose from a variety of styles and colors quickly and conveniently.


It’s just as important to make sure that you’re getting the best product and the best service you can for the lowest price. Some vendors make it very easy to request a sample or request a quote. Graduation ceremonies can get very expensive if you’re not watching the budget closely.


Every school today from large to small, private to public is watching the bottom line closely. No matter what, you want to have a terrific graduation day that everyone remembers.  Don’t let your cap and gown order break the bank for your event.


Keep in mind that just because you’ve been using the same provider(s) for a few years, it doesn’t mean that they have your school’s budget as a concern. You’ll want to make sure the company you select to work with has a good set of values and a real desire to help schools save money.


Buying vs. Renting

Some schools consider renting graduation gowns, but this comes with its own set of problems that a ceremony coordinator should be made aware. If you rent robes, it is critical that you ensure they are not only distributed but collected in a timely fashion. Some vendors may assess additional charges based on returns.


Remember that happy, graduating students will be running out the door after tossing their caps in the air. It can be an organizational nightmare come time to collect the rentals. While there are upfront savings on renting, you need to walk into this with open eyes and keep in mind the time spent collecting, folding, sorting, boxing, then mailing everything back. Even if you have a small graduating class, this can be a hectic task to undertake. Make sure you have the help of several school staff members.


Saving Memories

It is best to look for gowns that are high quality but inexpensive. You want students to be able to keep the robes as a token of their achievement, rather than return them. Some companies even sell keepsake boxes so that students can save the gown and cap along with all their other great high school memories all in one place. That way the students can look back on the times they spent in their youth fondly and even share those memories and items with their children one day. Check out this DIY graduation memory box article for fresh ideas.


Getting an Early Start

We highly suggest you begin to look at the beginning of the school year for a graduation product provider. As mentioned earlier, some vendors charge less when you order in advance. The graduation is itself is a massive undertaking for you, but just imagine having to coordinate thousands of graduations a year. These companies do just that, some better than others.


Remember that graduation season will be a busy time of year, as many other schools are contacting them too. As a result, many vendors will increase prices if you wait to order too late in the year. Order early to make sure that everything is in stock and available for you. Enjoy savings and the convenience of having your school’s graduation gowns ready for the ceremony.


Do note, that low prices do not necessarily mean low quality just as high prices don’t necessarily mean high quality. If you think that the price is “too good to be true,” request a sample of the product. If you can’t request a sample, be hesitant about giving this vendor your school’s business. Likewise, if your sample takes months to arrive, this may be an indicator of a poorly organized organization.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Get on the web today and look for a graduation gown vendor. We recommend you look for a website that is easy to navigate and is well-organized so you can find products for convenient shopping. They should also offer early order savings and give a free sample so you can take a look at their product before placing an order. Look also for a vendor that accepts returns without restocking fees on you. Take into account verified online reviews from sites like eKomi. Sites like Yelp are less reliable than you’d think.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding a Diploma and Cover Provider

Diplomas and Covers are typically custom items. Most schools will have both the diploma and cover emblazoned with their school logo or name in gold foil. As a result of this customization, early ordering isn’t as much of a suggestion as it is a necessity.


Keep in mind that these items take time to produce. You want to work with vendors who provide above average levels of quality, which adds time to the process. We recommend you look for a company that takes six weeks or more to make diplomas and covers.


While taking a long time may seem like a bad idea at first, trust us when we say that it is not. Orders that are handled too quickly by a company for this type of product may involve cutting corners. You don’t want to receive a cheap or inferior product. Keep in mind; it’s relatively difficult to return custom made products.


Depending upon your school’s budget and needs, it may be best to order stock diplomas and covers from a provider. These will arrive blank and can be ordered fast and delivered just as quickly without having to worry about quality. Stock covers and diplomas can suit your school’s needs and save your school time and money.


No matter which option you choose, we recommend you obtain multiple options and price quotes. Ensure you’ve done your due diligence and made the best decision for your school possible.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Decide first if you will choose custom or stock diplomas and covers, then contact at least two vendors for competitive price quotes. And remember, not knowing how many students will graduate is less important for covers as you can use the overages for next year’s class.


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Graduation Vendors: Finding Essential Accessories

Sometimes a school will want to honor children in other ways, such as the distribution of honor medals, cords, and stoles. Awards that signify students are on the honor roll or graduating with other distinguished achievements. Such products are also used to signify membership in different school clubs and organizations. You can find many of these items available online relatively inexpensively.


We recommend you do your research with vendors, as some graduation providers may even provide them for free with the purchase of a cap, gown, and tassel set. A good rule of thumb is that if you can’t see a price list, the company is keeping it hidden for a reason! The most common reason: so they can make up prices as they go along to maximize their revenues. Not good.


OUR BEST TIPS:


Order honor cords for your honor students and imprinted medals or stoles for your top two students. It’s important to give awards to students who worked hard. Order online for the lowest pricing.


Choosing Your Graduation Vendors - Graduation Guide - Graduation Handbook


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Keep a lookout for additional articles if you want to learn more! There will be many articles about graduation planning on our blog in the weeks to come. 


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