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Calgary Herald celebrates high school graduates amidst pandemic

By Monica Zurowski

Postmedia Calgary

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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As the coronavirus pandemic paralyzed our world last year, there was no shortage of news — most of it terrible — to fill our Web sites and news pages. Myriad resources were devoted to covering the loss of life, loss of livelihoods, and loss of just about every normal activity we had previously taken for granted.

Celebrations ranging from weddings and anniversaries to birthdays and baptisms were canceled, including ceremonies for high school graduates. That’s where we saw an opportunity to step in and serve our community while providing readers with a slice of brighter news. These graduates may not have been able to celebrate their achievement in the usual manner, but we thought we could perhaps help them mark their success in an unusual way.

A few of the 100-plus grads featured in the Calgary Herald's special project. Photo by Tyler Armstrong
A few of the 100-plus grads featured in the Calgary Herald's special project. Photo by Tyler Armstrong

The result was a community service campaign in print, online, and on social platforms. We asked grads to share with us reader-generated content in three areas:

  • Grad fashion.
  • Valedictory speeches.
  • Grads’ hopes for the future.

Students could submit material in any or all of the categories for publication on our platforms.

Reaching new audiences

This community project led to Class of 2020 special sections in print on three consecutive days last June and a special Web page, along with more than 100 submissions of photos, speeches, hopes for the future, and videos from grads. These were published not only in print and online but also on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok accounts.

The objectives of the project were to:

  • Create and publish a community service project that benefited our city.
  • Highlight achievements of young people in the city and celebrate their accomplishments.
  • Provide readers with some uplifting news during difficult times.
  • Establish new links with young members of our community and their families, while better reflecting the diversity of our city.
  • Grow our audience on social media platforms and attract readers to our print product.
  • Build a template for an idea that could be utilised at other properties within our newspaper chain.
  • Encourage a high degree of participation and extensive community outreach within this project.
One of three special sections the Calgary Herald published in 2020 to celebrate local high school graduates, who were missing out on traditional graduation ceremonies due to the pandemic.
One of three special sections the Calgary Herald published in 2020 to celebrate local high school graduates, who were missing out on traditional graduation ceremonies due to the pandemic.

An all-encompassing effort

To boost engagement in the project, we not only published ads and stories about the campaign but also created a TikTok video that was a call for submissions. Grads could use that platform for submitting content.

We reached out to local school boards and schools to create awareness and spent time on Instagram messaging local graduates, graduation committees, and pods of graduatess who were sharing photos of their dresses — a popular practice at every local high school.

The project proved popular. A number of other news organisations within our chain used the project as a template to celebrate grads in their own cities.

Ultimately, the project featured more than 100 local high school graduates, creating new ties into our community and strengthening those that already existed. As one graduate, Michael Girum, told us: “Thank you so much for the opportunity to be a part of this. The Calgary Herald has played a huge role in the fabric of our city for many years, and it was definitely an integral part of my life growing up; being able to have my own work published in it is amazing.”

Banner photo: Proud mom Marie Benedict takes photos of her twin graduating daughters, Maeve and Orla, on what would have been their graduation day. Photo by Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia.

About Monica Zurowski

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