June 28, 2023

When's Your "Graduation"?

For the past 10 years, I’ve been supporting various projects at the Stanford Design School (also known as the d.school).

A few years ago, I formally joined the teaching team and began building a new class. And just last Sunday, I participated in a very special graduation ceremony.

I’ll save you all of the big university details, but the d.school recently became a degree-granting school – an amazing story for a different letter — and was hosting their own graduation for the very first time. So on June 18th, all of the instructors were donned in regalia as we celebrated students on their momentous day.

Celebrating Growth

As I looked around and watched the joy billow from the tent where the event was held, I couldn’t help but wonder why these types of events stop after higher education?

I mean, when’s the last time you were celebrated for reaching a new milestone in your career or growth? As you get older, and aside from weddings, when do people excitedly gather simply to cheer someone on for their grand attempts and seasons of growth?

Why does it matter?

At their core, graduations are simply celebrations. And the science behind celebrations is remarkable. In short, the best chemicals in our brains are released during celebrations. Endorphins are triggered by laughter, dopamine by reward, and serotonin by community. These have the ability to increase social bonds, reduce stress, strengthen teams and communities, and build loyalty.

Extending Graduations

Over the years, Experience Institute has explored different versions of such events beyond those younger years. At the end of our programs with teams, we host Leap Talks where individuals take the stage to share the projects they designed. In most cases, participants invite their colleagues, leadership teams, and sometimes friends and family. We even design physical, mini diplomas with my dear friend and artist, Matthew Hoffman. The events are always a hit — leading to the feeling of celebration akin to a graduation.

Graduation Ingredients

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate milestones with your team and in your community, here are a few places you can start:

  • Choose a reason. Decide why and who you’re celebrating. Individuals who’ve completed an important training, achieved a new milestone in their career, pursued a new innovation idea, etc.

  • Give it a name/theme. Naming things make them special.

  • Send invitations. Invite people from inside and outside the organization. You will elevate the milestone by sharing it with others.

  • Design the space. It doesn’t have to be somewhere grand, but create a few things that make it special.

  • Break bread. Sharing a meal sparks connections.

  • Find a good emcee. Ask someone who cares about the learners and knows what they’ve been through to guide the event.

  • Create space to “take the stage.” Invite participants to nominate speakers. Or, depending on size, give everyone a time slot. Make sure they’ve had some guidance, coaching, and practice so they feel pride in what they share.

  • Give awards. Share something unique with all graduates. You can also create one or two special awards for learners who went above and beyond to lift up the entire group.

  • Capture the moments. Hire a photographer and videographer. Capturing the event elevates the experience for everyone involved and helps you prepare to share.

  • Share what you capture. Create a summary to be shared internally or externally. Invite each participant to write their reflections from their experience and add it to a central place. Make it easy for participants and audience members to re-share pieces of the event with their communities.

When’s your graduation?

Graduations are celebrations of learning. They can happen anytime, anywhere, and with any mix of “ingredients”.

Host them more often in your company, and you’ll create a culture that values learning as much as it values work.

So, when’s your graduation?

PS: Congrats to anyone around the Ei community who celebrated graduates this spring. We're rooting for you as you begin your next chapter!


Stanford photo credit: Patrick Beaudouin, the talented d.school photographer

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