If you spent any time watching the news this weekend, you probably noticed the Obama’s have been all about pomp and circumstance, with Michelle Obama choosing to give her first commencement address at what had previously been a little known campus: the University of California Merced.

The college opened just four years ago, and 2009 marks its first full graduating class. The campus is still under construction, no ranked sports team, no wealthy alumni, just 2700 students. All that housed in a county faced with foreclosures, drought and an unemployment rate of 20 percent.

So why UC Merced?

Because the students asked her to. With 250 faxes, thousands of letters, 900 handwritten valentines, Facebook campaign and a YouTube video.

Sonic Foundry had the honor of providing the webcasting services to stream the live event (embedded Player at UC Merced | Mediasite presentation). And in thinking about how it call came to be, 12,000 people watching on-site and 3,000 watching online, it’s clear great things come from blended approaches. It is a case study in how to merge online and offline, traditional and non-traditional tactics to achieve a desired result.

 

 

Sam Fong, UC Merced Class of 2009 and one of three organizers behind the "We Believe in Michelle" campaign.

 

Our PR Manager Tammy Kramer recently had a chance to interview two UC Merced students. Sam Fong, recognized in Mrs. Obama’s speech, is one of the three students who organized the “Dear Michelle” campaign, code name Operation Lady Bird. He said, “Our initiative to invite Michelle made extensive use of the web to coordinate our efforts and the different phases of the campaign.  We went online to exchange information and ideas, do research, plan meetings, send reminders, enlist volunteers, and finally launch a video campaign on YouTube."

"Online media also contributed to our campaign's success in reaching a larger audience and exchanging information and ideas when some students were unavailable. With all of our different schedules, it would have been tougher to exchange ideas and plan logistics without these online services. Since our graduation is being webcasted, this is really a wonderful opportunity for everyone to watch this amazing event from anywhere in the world. This event is going to be very special, a treasured memory for years and even decades to come.  That is why I believe it is so important that we are able to capture and share these moments online with family and community members from all over the world.“

And Soccora Campsanto, who performed an original song during the ceremony, summed it up: "It's great to have not only the campus and the community, but also the United States and the entire world know that grassroots projects like this still work. We can make a difference. It's a student-driven university, and having the enduring link to this landmark event will add to our legacy as the founding classmen."

 

Soccora Campsanto performing during the UC Merced graduation ceremony.

 

We talk a lot about the power of webcasting to change the way people work and learn, but we recognize that those kinds of transformations – like getting Michelle Obama to speak at your graduation - require more than just technology.

Congrats to Sam, Soccora and the rest of the UC Merced Class of 2009.