I was there at the WSET Virtual Graduation ceremony held on March 18, as member of an APP offering the Diploma course. I have seen news here and there about it, but no real report, so I will leave my impressions.
My comment for the event could be summarized into one word: underwhelming.
I say this despite all the work that WSET has put into it: I felt a genuine effort on their part to make this day memorable for the participants, but – let’s face it – the virtual ceremony was light years away from the “real” one at the Guild Hall.
A site had been prepared for this event, where the students could put their photo, write a yearbook, upload celebratory videos. The ceremony itself consisted of a congratulatory video by Ian Harris and the various APPs of the area (Asia Pacific in my case), plus a chat where everyone could congratulate the new graduates. The duration was less than 30 minutes, very short.
The problem is that in a celebration, you want to feel celebrated. You don’t want to make efforts to record videos or write messages, you want to be there, feel the happiness, hear the applauses, take shots with your fellow graduates, sharing a bottle of wine and after that going a restaurant or a bar to keep partying. There is no point in just staring at a screen and typing in a message box, or looking at your name being displayed on the screen. You want to get on the stage, take a photo with your Diploma in hand or maybe even your prize and feel admired for a moment.
As I said I don’t blame the WSET. Something may have been done slightly better maybe, but an online celebration needs a contribution from the people being celebrated that is simply not reasonable to ask. Probably many graduates have had a good evening anyway, gathering with friends and drinking while looking at the screen for a handful of minutes, but the ceremony itself has probably made little difference to them.
It looks like we have reached the limits of what online technology can offer us. In January I took part in the WSET APP online summit and wow that was glorious: one week of extremely interesting seminars and the chance to interact with personalities and experts in the field of wine and beyond. I was blown away, it was excellent and it really showed me the potential of online education when done by professionals that know their job.
However the virtual world simply does not lend itself easily to celebrations: everyone is behind a screen, there are no laughs in the background or tingling of glasses, or the pleasant confusion of the crowd, the shaking of hands. It is all sterilized.
Thinking back to the experience, I asked myself if it wouldn’t have been better to organize the ceremony in a 3D online world, like Second Life or World of Warcraft. At least each one would have had a tridimensional avatar and after the congratulatory video we all could have gone raiding some dungeons led by dwarf cleric Ian Harris or human paladin Paul Symington. But I am imagining too much: this would need a big technological effort from all the parties involved, WSET, APPs, students. Probably it would not work.
I am a bit sad, especially for the poor graduates that could not go to the Guild Hall, but on the other hand I am also relieved that real contact and skinship are still important in this World and they will never be totally replaced by a bright screen.
The pandemic will pass, the new chances that it brought us (online seminars, remote working) will stay and merge with old habits that will never die.
Eventually they will all harmonize like a skillfully crafted blend.