With state officials clarifying that getting out of cars and gathering for graduation ceremonies would be in violation of Gov. Phil Murphy's executive order, New Jersey high schools and colleges are looking at ways to make virtual graduations as memorable as they can be.

That means video production companies are in high demand in New Jersey this spring as they brainstorm with schools about how to make commencements uniquely creative.

Mike Perlow of Perlow Productions in Marlton said the No. 1 thing both high schools and colleges have stressed to him is their desire to make the virtual experience as close to the real thing as possible. That doesn't necessarily mean graduates will look back at a video ceremony as having been better than something in person, but it will at least be a link or a download they can preserve forever.

Perlow said that among the highlights some schools have wanted to include are rose or carnation ceremonies, award presentations, band and choral performances and candid photos encompassing the Class of 2020's senior year and their entire experience at an institution from the day they walked in.

Much of that can be expressed through custom-made graphics, animation and branding that companies like Perlow's provide.

"A lot of schools don't know what can be accomplished as part of a virtual graduation, so we've really pushed them to share with us all of the elements that are part of their typical graduation," he said.

Perlow is relying primarily on remote video capture methods such as speeches recorded on iPhones and other mobile devices, and use of videoconferencing platforms like Zoom.

He said he has had conversations with some schools about allowing students to come in, one at a time and with social distancing being observed, then having those students stand in front of the camera and give their names. That not only adds an obvious personal touch, but also clears up the embarrassing pronunciation issues that can arise on graduation day.

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In the past, maybe all a student would have been able to keep from their graduation was a shaky, grainy video taken by their parents, overrun with crowd chatter.

"This is the first class that will be able to look back, hopefully the last but who knows, that'll be able to look back on their graduation and say they have a full video production, that they have to own, of their graduation," Perlow said, with the ultimate goal being that "each school, each family, each student that watches their virtual graduation watches it, has fun, and hopefully walks away saying, 'Wow, that was actually so much cooler than we thought it would be.'"

Perlow said he has had several dozen requests for virtual graduation videos so far, with more coming in every day. The schools, no matter the cost, purely want their students and families to be able to recall the time and care that was put into this year's ceremonies.

"I hope families know that, that your schools are working as hard as they can to give you the best version of your graduation that they possibly can within the current circumstances," Perlow said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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