YouTube’s ‘Dear Class of 2020’ virtual celebration is bringing together big influencers, such as the Obamas, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, for an experience unlike any other commencement — and Brian Cavallaro ’01 is part of the behind-the-scenes team making it happen.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately caused in-person commencement ceremonies across the country to be canceled, virtual celebrations are being organized in honor of the special class of graduates. YouTube’s online event will be livestreamed at 3 p.m. June 6 and includes a mix of dozens of talented artists, celebrities, social media personalities and other influential figures.
“It’s new to work in this way with social distancing and produce a show of this magnitude completely online. ”
As one of the event’s producers, Cavallaro is responsible for assisting with the practical organization and production of aspects of the show, as well as consulting on how the entire event ties together.
“A lot of it is just helping put pieces of the puzzle together, which wouldn’t be possible without every member of this project,” says the Emmy and Clio award-winning creative. “It’s new to work in this way with social distancing and produce a show of this magnitude completely online. The big question is, ‘How do you film somebody safely and have it look good?’ Otherwise it’s a matter of making sure everyone is comfortable.”
Some of the major names scheduled to deliver speeches are Beyoncé, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, K-pop group BTS, Lady Gaga and activist Malala Yousafzai. Cavallaro’s favorite part of producing the show has been working with its headliners.
“Having the opportunity to work with former President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama is a huge honor, something I never thought would be possible,” he says. “Just seeing how they and their teams, the Obama Foundation and Reach Higher initiative, are involved with the show is for sure the best part.”
“What you hope is everybody feels a sense of community, that … there are still things to celebrate and look forward to.”
Some of the musical performances slated for the after-party include Chloe x Halle, CNCO, Lizzo, Maluma and Megan Thee Stallion. Other celebrity guest appearances include Alicia Keys, Bill and Melinda Gates, Billy Porter, Hasan Minhaj, Jackie Aina, Janelle Monáe, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Durant, Misty Copeland, Taylor Swift, the casts of Euphoria and Riverdale and more.
“This entire process every single day I think about my graduation from UCF and what I would have wanted if I was in the [current graduates’] shoes,” Cavallaro says. “What you hope is everybody feels a sense of community, that they’re not alone and we’re all in this together. There are still things to celebrate and look forward to.”
For his commencement at UCF, Cavallaro’s family from Pennsylvania visited Orlando, enjoyed a dinner out and spent a few days at Walt Disney World. He says he attended UCF because at the time the university was one of few to allow students to double-major in theatre and communication. Ultimately, he chose to keep his focus mainly on his artistic passion and completed a minor in communications, allowing him to gain the experiences he wanted in both fields.
“The thing I learned the most from my time at UCF was being able to collaborate on a project together.”
“With the theatre department you’re thrown into a community right away and able to make friends fast,” says Cavallaro. “The thing I learned the most from my time at UCF was being able to collaborate on a project together, and that’s something that’s given me the skillset I have today.”
While at UCF he became interested in film, and earning his bachelor’s gave him the confidence to pursue the new field. He went on to earn a master’s in film at the University of Miami before moving to Los Angeles and getting a job as a production assistant. From there, the freelancer says he’s worked hard and the jobs have continued to pile up and get better.
“Many people move to big cities like L.A. to pursue their passions, and a lot of the time you don’t have that feeling of a neighborhood here. So you find that core group of people you enjoy working with and trust, and they really act like a support group in times like this,” he says.
Through the years he counts working with Burt Reynolds for six months on the The Last Movie Star, the actor’s final project, as a dream come true. Some of Cavallaro’s proudest works are projects that intend to make a difference, such asdocumentaries for Climate Reality, Al Gore’s nonprofit organization committed to climate-change education and advocacy.
“Last year, I worked on a project with XQ about encouraging young people in the mid-term elections, and that felt really good,” he says. “Jane Fonda was involved in it. I’ve worked with her on a few projects and I’m shocked when she remembers who I am.”
For students and graduates looking to pursue the industry, Cavallaro suggests staying open to every opportunity you’re presented with, the lessons that come with them and learning as much as you can from the people you work with.
“It’s helpful to know a little bit about every part of the process, such as music clearance, teleprompters and how to operate cameras, so you can have ideas about every aspect of a project and contribute,” he says. “Going to college gives you that foundation of being a constant learner. I think in creative endeavors and careers you’re always learning.”