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Inspiration to Execution: CSU’s Alma Mater Graduation Music Video

Pay Attention to Inspiration

Sometimes inspiration comes from the strangest places. Like an Allstate insurance commercial. Several months ago, I was watching TV when I saw this commercial about a woman who had such an amazing experience with her Allstate insurance claim, she told everyone she encountered throughout her day about it. I was intrigued by the fluid storyline and started thinking about how this idea could translate into a social video for Colorado State University.

The idea hit me in the middle of the night (as my crazy ideas often do) and I found myself manically typing notes into my iPhone at 2 am.

It’s no secret that I love music, and will jump at the chance to create a music video – did you catch CAM the Ram’s spoof on Adele’s hit song “Hello?” So the idea of turning this concept into a video highlighting CSU’s Alma Mater seemed like a natural fit. Plus, our Ram grads often share sentiments on social media about how their college experience has stuck with them, so it was easy for me to imagine the CSU Alma Mater getting stuck in someone’s head, being a complete part of their entire college experience – from beginning to end.

Nailing Down the Idea

Video shoot Administration Building scene

First, we wanted to find a student acapella group on campus that could breathe new life into the CSU Alma Mater. A colleague from the Alumni Association got me in touch with one of our talented groups, The Ramblings, and I was able to attend one of their rehearsals to pitch them the idea. Needless to say, they were beyond excited to have the opportunity to put their spin on a new arrangement of the CSU Alma Mater. The singers were also invited to star in the social video.

Over the next couple of months, I worked with a young lady named Montana, the President of the Ramblings, and their music director to iron out a fresh, new, updated version of the Alma Mater that still maintained the integrity of the iconic original. Back in the office, I put together a storyboard of how I saw the video playing out. The general idea for the video was that from the moment a CSU Ram wakes up in the morning, until the time when they turn their tassel at graduation, CSU is such a big part of their lives that of course the Alma Mater gets stuck in their head.

Making the Music Come to Life

The pressure of transforming an idea into reality after months of planning and hard work is not for the faint-hearted. There was a lot of pressure to make this idea sing. Literally. One of the most gratifying feelings any creative can experience is when an idea transcends paper and turns into reality, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened.

Ramblings sing in audio booth

The first step in making this video come to life was recording the song. After a couple of tweaks to the new arrangement, I met up with the Ramblings once again inside a recording booth in the College of Liberal Arts. It was a tight squeeze, but we made it work and after several takes, we knew we had something good on our hands. Side note: documenting the authenticity of this studio session was so important to me to show, I decided to include the raw footage of the recording session at the very end of the video – be sure to watch the entire way through.

Video shoot coffee scene

Details, Details, Details

A first draft of the storyboard provided a decent starting place, but coordinating a video shoot with sixteen college students, in nine different filming locations, weeks ahead of finals and graduation, meant that everything needed to run smoothly in order to execute the video shoot in an efficient manner. We were able to identify one afternoon when the majority of the Ramblings were able to participate in the filming. That filming window was only 4 hours long, so dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” was paramount to making this shoot run smoothly.

Video shoot bus scene

I took a field trip one afternoon to scout out filming locations on campus. Once the final shot list was complete, I was able to make all the necessary reservations and connections on campus. We were set to film inside CSU’s brewery called the Ramskeller, in a large lecture hall inside the Behavior Sciences building, in a study room in the Morgan Library, and inside Moby Arena – CSU’s indoor basketball and volleyball arena. We were also slated to film at several outdoor locations including CSU’s iconic Oval, on the banks of the Lagoon and on the steps of the Administration Building. It was important for me to hit all the nostalgic spots on campus so that our social audience and alumni could relate to the video.

After making all of the filming reservations, the next hurdle was figuring out a way to get everyone around campus quickly, in order to stay on time with our filming schedule. Thankfully we were able to rent three multi-person golf carts from CSU’s motor pool to use during filming. I think cruising around campus, VIP style, was a highlight for many of the students. I mean, how often do you get chauffeured around a college campus?

Video shoot lecture hall scene

Taking it One Step Further

Creating a graduation video is nice and all, but I really wanted to take the idea one step further to give our newly graduated alumni an interactive way to connect with the video. The CSU Office of Admissions has done an incredible job marketing CSU to newly admitted students with their #ColoStateBound campaign. Essentially, every new admit receives a welcome package that includes admissions packet along with an “I Found My State” poster. Incoming freshmen are encouraged to take a picture with their poster and post to social media using #ColoStateBound. I realized that Colorado State did not provide anything like this for alumni and thought it would be nice to send them off with #CSUMyAlmaMater posters when they graduate. This would accomplish two things – strengthen the affinity for CSU for our new graduates, and capitalize on one last social media opportunity for user-generated content. #WinWin.

The new #CSUMyAlmaMater posters were bundled into the cap and gown pick-up from CSU’s Alumni Association. Hopefully the new trend catches on and in time, we will be able to see students with these posters as incoming freshmen, then again as CSU graduates.

Alma Mater sign front

Alma Mater sign back

We also designed Snapchat Geofilters with the #CSUMyAlmaMater mark for students to use during commencement ceremonies. 

The Moral of the Story

Inspiration is everywhere. Pay attention. Don’t back away from an idea because it feels too big, or daunting. Try it. You have nothing to lose. Plan, plan, plan. Then plan some more. Surround yourself with creative people who can help make your crazy ideas come to life.

To see more about how Colorado State University covered graduation, please check out the following blogs:

Tassel Turning Time: Social Media for Commencement

Dear Collabo-Haters: How Six Brains Led to this Graduation Video

Jen Smith

About Jen Smith

Third-generation Fort Collins native. Former Husker and pro softball player. Loves avocados, flip flops, cowboy boots, ice cream, playing the guitar, traveling, live music, dogs and DIY projects. Hates snakes. That's it – just snakes. Well, snakes and math. Proudest social moment: CSU's post for #LoveWins.