On April 6, I received an email notifying me that I would not be returning to Northwestern University to conclude my senior year. I would never walk along the Lakefill as an undergrad again, learn in University Hall or study in Deering Library. Similar to many students in the graduating classes of 2020, I found myself devastated for these lost moments.
My one hope after it was announced that classes were being held virtually was that Northwestern would still be able to hold an in-person commencement ceremony. As a school on the quarter system, graduation isn’t until mid-June and I delusionally hoped the situation would change quick enough for students and families to celebrate together in Evanston. The rational part of me knew this was not an actual possibility and I didn’t want to worsen the spread by bringing thousands of people together. However, the optimistic side of me hoped for a miracle.
Then, on April 22, I received an email that our graduation, like many 2020 graduates notified before us, would be held virtually. While I am excited to hear Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot deliver the commencement address, I can’t help but feel saddened for myself and my fellow classmates. Each of us has worked hard to proudly obtain a diploma from our respective institutions, and now, we will not be able to experience the culmination of our studies that we hoped for. While the memories from our undergraduate days are still with us and we are still receiving a diploma, it is definitely not the moment we imagined.
Hundreds of miles from my fellow classmates, I turned towards social media for support in navigating this disappointment. As someone who has grown up in the age of social media, I was really looking forward to engaging with this online community for support. Through Facebook groups dedicated to the class of 2020 and Instagram memes about our collective state, I happily found comfort, support and connection. However, I think expanding from my network, more could be done on social media in regards to brand activation that engages the class of 2020.
I believe brands are at a pivotal point where they could lend support in filling this gap. First and foremost, all brands have a responsibility to support those on the frontlines and their employees, while making business decisions accordingly. In addition to these efforts, I’ve also appreciated how several brands have engaged in humanitarian efforts and with my demographic.
A few wonderful examples I’ve seen are:
Adobe has given schools the ability to transfer their services to students’ personal electronics for free so creativity and learning is not hindered due to a lack of access to campus resources.
U-Haul transformed their disaster relief program, which normally provides 30 days of free self-storage to those in need after a natural disaster, to support college students looking for a place to store their belongings during this time.
Facebook will hold a graduation ceremony for the classes of 2020 with commencement speaker Oprah Winfrey and a performance by Miley Cyrus. YouTube will also stream appearances from the Obama family
Among others, from both brands and celebrities, these efforts have helped current graduating seniors (including myself!) feel connected, comforted and celebrated. And I thank each brand that has made this pledge for doing so.
I believe these brand reactions are a great start, and that additional brands could be using their products and services to support graduates, or for that matter, any and all individuals missing out on major events due to quarantine.
Another example that recently resonated with me was Burger King announcing a campaign that after quarantine, they will throw 600 birthday parties for kids in France. These parties were awarded to families who engaged with the brand on social media.
The rationale behind the campaign was “to show our [Burger King’s] attachment to families.” Burger King is not capitalizing on the situation to turn a profit, nor isolating and catering to only those with current disposable income, but is genuinely promoting their values and reminding customers of their purpose and connection. More than just a quick-service restaurant and menu, Burger King is reiterating to consumers they are a brand with values, emotions and personality that individuals can find solace, support and joy within.
While for a younger group of people missing life events in quarantine, I believe brands can take after Burger King to show graduates their product or company is more than just a commodity being sold for a profit. By filling a gap in many of our lives, these brands could be building awareness and establishing a connection between person and product. Opportunities that I believe could resonate with the class of 2020 for example could be:
An alcohol brand could host a contest where students share on social media what they’re missing most about campus and randomly select winners who are awarded a commencement box filled with graduation decorations, a branded graduation cap and their product.
An office supply company could invite students to nominate their friends who are starting jobs in quarantine after graduation and send them branded work-from-home items to place on the desk in their childhood bedroom, otherwise known as their new office!
These are only some of the many ideas out there! I truly see an opportunity for brands to establish consumer relations and connections (and not to mention receive positive press and media coverage) by showing us they understand what’s missing from our lives and are taking action to mitigate this need. Without looking like they are taking advantage of this moment to turn a profit, brands have the ability to help us replicate the big moments we are missing in return for an emotional connection and awareness of the brand. So, from a college senior to brands, I believe there is great opportunity to help all of us celebrate the milestones we were supposed to be having in the world, just now at home. Thank you!