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Tradition through innovation

Interlochen Arts Academy introduces creative digital formats for much-anticipated end-of-year traditions.

Academy students prepare to process into Kresge Auditorium for Commencement

Graduates walk to Kresge Auditorium for the Commencement ceremony.

The end of the school year is bittersweet. For some students, the final bell sounds the start of summer fun. For others, it marks a journey’s end and new beginnings. Schools ritualize these watershed moments with special celebrations to honor the achievements of both those who are returning and those who are moving on.

Although many schools have been closed due to COVID-19, administrators across the country have worked to maintain these time-honored rhythms. Many have devised ways to reinvent traditions in a safe, socially distant manner, and Interlochen Arts Academy—one of the nation’s most creative schools—is no exception. Here’s how the Academy is curating online alternatives to three favorite end-of-the-year celebrations: Festival, Honors Convocation, and Commencement.


One of Interlochen Arts Academy’s best-loved traditions is a three-day, nearly continuous celebration of art known as Festival. This year, instead of filling stages across campus, Festival will take place in homes across the globe via a new online format from May 20-22.

Each day, a collection of video performances will be posted online with a special welcome message from an alumni host. Josh Lederman (IAC 00-01, IAA 02-03), national political reporter for NBC News, will open Festival as the host of the Wednesday, May 20 program. Grammy Award-nominated actor, singer, and author Alexandra Silber (IAC 95-99, IAA 99-01) will host the second day of Festival, and New York Philharmonic Principal Clarinetist Anthony McGill (IAC 91, 93, IAA 94-96) will introduce the final program on March 22.

Featuring excerpts from on-campus performances recorded earlier in the year along with selections from the March 2020 Miami tour, the Festival programs will also include solo and virtual ensemble performances recorded by students from their homes around the world. There will also be a few special, surprise performances honoring the graduating class of 2020.

Festival’s video-based format has resulted in innovative alternatives to live performance. The Film and New Media division’s traditional thesis showcase will be presented via a live Zoom “watch party.” Theatre students involved in Jaclyn Backhaus’ Men on Boats and Nicholas Dante and James Kirkwood Jr.’s musical A Chorus Line will present documentary films about the rehearsal process. William Shakespeare’s As You Like It will be presented as an audio drama.

Honors Convocation

Honors Convocation recognizes both senior and underclassmen students who have demonstrated excellence in their artistic or academic pursuits over the course of the school year.

This year’s Honors Convocation will be celebrated virtually on Friday, May 22 at 7 p.m. EDT. The event will feature a live broadcast of President Trey Devey and Provost Camille Colatosti from the stage of Kresge Auditorium as well as pre-recorded speeches and performances by students and faculty from all majors. Students will receive their awards via mail after the ceremony.


With this year’s Commencement ceremony moving online, Arts Academy administrators are going the extra mile to make the day special for the Class of 2020.

A few weeks prior to the ceremony, all graduates received their cap, gown, and honor cords in the mail. The graduates were invited to don their regalia, have a loved one film them walking across the “stage” of their choice, and share their video for use in the virtual ceremony. Students also shared still images of themselves dressed in both regalia and casual clothes for a surprise segment.

The ceremony will also include the traditional senior speaker and senior performer and Interlochen Arts Academy alumnus and Sphinx Organization founder Aaron Dworkin will give the commencement address. The ceremony will be available to live stream on Saturday, May 23 at 12 p.m. EDT.

After Commencement, students will receive their diploma via mail.

“While we know that online ceremonies cannot replace the joy of celebrating in person with family, friends, and teachers, we will honor the artistic and academic accomplishments our students achieved this year,” said Provost Camille Colatosti. “Amidst these unprecedented times, we continue to be amazed by the passion, creativity, and tenacity of our students, and we want to recognize their achievements. Please join me in congratulating all our students—and especially the Class of 2020!”