Williams graduation will be on-line. Zoom is a powerful platform. What advice do you have for College Marshall Jay Thoman ’82, the professor in charge of Commencement?

1) The more time spent in small groups, the better. The Zoom terminology is “Breakout Room.” The biggest challenge for Williams will be figuring out the default rooms to assign every graduate senior to. This is a good job for the senior class leadership. Basic idea is that every student must be assigned to a smallish (at least 3, no more than 10) core group, with whom she will spend most of the ceremony. Call this their “Home Room.” Roommates are the obvious grouping mechanism. But it is certainly possible that, say, all the female soccer players want to be together for the event.

2) In addition to these 100 or so Home Rooms (all run out of the main Zoom session), we need several dozen Gatherings, separate Zoom sessions where students can go to reunite with other seniors who share their interests. Almost every sports team will have such a room, as well as all the major student organizations. Some Gatherings will allow parent visitors. Some will be restricted to students. I suspect that many sports teams will have both, a Gathering for students and one for parents. All individual houses would also have a Gathering. We need a public spreadsheet which lists all of these so that students/parents can find them.

Also, there are separate Zoom Gatherings corresponding to each student Home Room. Many parents know the parents of their Eph’s roommates and will want to hang out in a parallel session.

3) Create a list of potential guests: faculty, coaches, staff and administrators. Then, ask the Home Rooms who they want to have visit them, if possible. Wouldn’t it be fun to have your favorite professor stop by your Zoom room for a quick hello?

4) Base Zoom limits attendees to 200 and only 50 breakout rooms. I think there is a ZoomXL version which could accommodate many more people. Does anyone have details?

5) Start time needs to be around 11:00 AM. Anything earlier is too tough on west coast students. Any later is impossible for Asia students.

6) We need a common “channel” which everyone can tune into. This might be broadcast into the main student Zoom, but it would need to exist publicly as well. Indeed, it might be cool to have several different channels — Twitch streams? — which feature a different sets of speakers.


10:00: Main channel starts broadcasting fun content. Student produced videos. A Capella groups. Sports highlights. Student photos over the last four years.

10:30: Main student Zoom opens. (It is tough to run a 100+ person Zoom, but not impossible.) Might make sense to do this even earlier, in the same way that, in physical commencement, students are lining up for the march well before the start. Every five minutes in this main room, students are sent to their breakout rooms to chat with their friends, and then brought back together. (Big advantage of this is that it causes students who are alone in their rooms because their roommates have not showed up yet to text those sleepy roommates and tell them to Log On Now!)

11:00: Event begins with some digital equivalent of a student procession. Still pondering what that would be!

11:15: College Marshall Jay Thoman ’82, speaking on the main channel, welcomes everyone and provides an overview of the day’s events. (Of course, a written description with every detail has been distributed to students and families ahead of time.)

11:20: President Mandel speaks briefly.

11:30: Students are sent to their Home Rooms. Visitors — at least one or two of the faculty/staff who they requested — come by to visit and chat. This is the heart of graduation in the era of CV-19. At the same time, families have a choice: hear a speech from someone on the main channel or go to the Gatherings where they can chat amongst themselves.

11:45: Students are brought back from their Home Rooms into the main session. (The great advantage of Zoom is that this is easy to do.) The traditional three student speeches are given on the main channel, but each is restricted to five minutes or less.

12:00: Students sent back to Home Rooms. Again, this period, this private time with your closest friends and visits from those faculty/staff who know you best, is what makes the whole event work. More visitors come by.

12:15: Back to the main room for the big speech. Again, everything on Zoom is much more boring than it is in real life, so this speech must be short, no more than 15 minutes.

12:30: Back to Home Rooms, but with the option to leave the Home Room and visit one of the Gatherings. This would be the time for all the seniors who work on the Record, for example, to get together, even though they have different Home Rooms.

12:45: Back from the awarding of degrees. Not sure how to do this yet.

1:00: Commencement ends. Of course, students/families/faculty/staff need a way to hang out afterwards — similar to the milling around on Chapin Lawn which occurs after the normal commencement — but I have not worked out the best mechanism for that yet.

What advice do you have for Professor Jay Thoman?

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