Maybe decades from now, when BYU-trained attorneys — circa 2020 — hear the sunshine pop song “California Dreamin’” playing on the radio or in the movies, they will think back to their COVID-era law school graduation.
What’s the link between a classic 1960s tune from The Mamas and the Papas and the pandemic-weary BYU Law School Class of 2020?
Just check out this music parody video entitled “Graduation Streaming” (see what they did there?) featuring the BYU Law School faculty.
The virtual performance was crafted in the living rooms and home offices of several faculty members to honor 2020 graduates — all while having a bit of fun during a sober period at the Church-owned school and across the globe.
Those familiar with the wistful lyrics of “California Dreamin’” will appreciate the tongue-in-cheek send-up. Meanwhile, BYU law students who had their traditional graduation ceremony nixed by COVID-19 can immediately spot the song’s school insider quips:
“Got no cap and gown; Got no candy lei
“I won’t get to walk on the De Jong stage
“The Dean just gave a talk; He said it’s all okay
“Graduation Streaming — There is no other way…”
Married BYU Law School faculty members Christine Hurt and Paul Stancil played guiding roles in writing the “Graduation Streaming” lyrics and producing the video. It required dozens of hours to complete.
Meanwhile, law professors and deans accustomed to teaching civil procedure, torts and criminal law marshaled their varying degrees of musical talents for the vocals.
Several household-items-turned-percussion-instruments in the video could pass as an eccentric’s grocery list: a cheese wheel, jars of Jif peanut butter, metal pots, coffee mugs and, appropriately, plenty of two-ply toilet paper.
When COVID-19 forced the law school to shift to online classes in early March, faculty members began “racking our brains to think of ways that we can better serve our students,” said Stancil.
Of primary concern were the third-year law students who would miss the pomp and circumstance milestone of publicly graduating with their peers.
“We’ve been trying to find ways to let the students know that we were thinking about them, and it’s hard when we’re not in the same building to remain a community,” said Hurt.
As social distancing became ubiquitous, virtual choir performances began turning up on YouTube and other online video platforms. Hurt and Stancil have been writing legal-themed song parodies for more than 20 years. So the couple began crafting a lighthearted take on “California Dreamin’” to honor the graduating law students.
More than a dozen faculty members fill out the video cast, including the leader of BYU’s law school. Dean D. Gordon Smith opens the parody video drumming on, well, a cheese wheel. The former Wisconsin resident is well-known by students and professors as a devout cheese fan.
Hurt penned the “Graduation Streaming” lyrics and deferred video recording and sound editing duties to her husband. Meanwhile, each of the participating faculty members filmed and recorded their individual performances remotely while listening to a pre-recorded backtrack.
Hurt and Stancil called their colleagues great sports “who rose to the occasion.”
“There is something to be said for being generous with your willingness to be a little silly,” said Stancil. “Not everyone would be willing to do that, but I work with some fantastic people who put themselves out there to benefit the students.”
Hurt added she and her colleagues missed saying proper farewells to the graduates. “We wanted them to know that they were still our mission — our mission was still to help them achieve their goals.”
As the school’s interim dean of students, Hurt followed her instincts on what sort of tone for the song would appropriately resonate with the graduates, who recently participated in a virtual graduation ceremony.
Traditional graduation exercises offer the law faculty opportunities to recognize and honor a class of students that they have worked with for three years, said Dean Smith.
The pandemic disrupted that ritual.
It all felt too abrupt, he said. So the virtual choir video, coupled with other law school goodies recently mailed to the students, “allowed us to send the graduates off with a gift.”
Corey Thompson said he won’t forget the efforts of his deans and professors to send him and his fellow graduates off with a memorable salute.
“I really enjoyed it,” he said of the video. “I’ve always been impressed with the character of the faculty and staff. It took a lot of effort to put something like this together — but it demonstrates the character of the people.
“It shows that they love and care for the students.”
So given their video’s thumbs-up reviews, will any of BYU’s august law professors be leaving academia for the entertainment industry?
“I did see some fantastic percussion talent,” answered Stancil, laughing. “There was some pretty creative toilet paper playing. Maybe there’s a niche there.”