Colorado College President Jill Tiefenthaler wanted to add a personal touch to Commencement this year, even though the 524 graduating members of the Class of 2020 would not be getting their diplomas from her in person, as in previous years.
So, over the course of three weeks, in between Zoom calls and often into the evening, President Tiefenthaler donned her regalia and, using the bookcase in her office as a backdrop, recorded 539 personalized messages — 524 for the undergraduates and 15 graduates in CC’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.
The bulk of the recordings took place when CC was navigating uncertain territory caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including discussions as to what Commencement for the Class of 2020 would look like.
“The decision to cancel the Commencement ceremony for the Class of 2020 was very difficult,” says President Tiefenthaler. “While it was obvious and the right decision, it made me very sad. Senior spring and Commencement weekend are such an important part of a CC residential, liberal arts education and an important part of the transition to the next step. I wanted our seniors to know that we were proud of them and wished them the best and it just seemed right to say that to each and every one of them,” she says.
The idea for personalized videos came about as she and others were discussing the results of a survey CC sent to seniors and their families as to what they wanted for their graduation.
“The vast majority of the Class of 2020 was very clear that they wanted an in-person traditional graduation on campus when it was safe and they didn’t want a virtual ceremony this May,” says Tiefenthaler. “But several did say it would be nice for the class to get a video or letter from the president. I thought ‘of course I would do that, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually do it for each individually?’ I love giving them their diplomas and shaking the seniors’ hands as they walk across the stage. I thought that they deserved something as personal as that.”
In the videos, Tiefenthaler congratulates each graduate by name and includes their major and hometown in her messages to them. She tried to record 25 messages in a session, with the project taking approximately 22 hours to complete.
And the reaction to the personalized videos? “I heard everything from ‘wow’ to ‘how’,” she says.