updated 6/3/2007 3:40:04 PM ET 2007-06-03T19:40:04

Shohei Takagiwa wanted more than anything to see his three friends graduate from college, but he couldn't travel halfway around the world from his native Japan to Northampton Community College in Bethlehem.

So Takagiwa, a 2006 alumnus, did the next best thing.

He logged onto his computer to watch a live Internet broadcast of the May 24 evening ceremony for the 1,177 graduates — the college's first commencement Webcast.

He was delighted to see his friends looking right into the camera as they crossed the stage, "with the biggest smile I've ever seen, waving their hands to me."

For a growing number of colleges and universities — and even a few high schools — long distances are no longer an obstacle for far-flung friends and relatives who can't make it to campus. Schools are turning to Internet broadcasts to bridge the distance on graduation day.

The broadcasts can alleviate problems that inevitably occur when indoor ceremonies limit the number of people graduates can invite.

At O'Fallon Township High School in Illinois each of the 530 graduating seniors could invite up to six people to the May 19 ceremony held in the gymnasium, Principal Steve Dirnbeck said.

Although the suburban St. Louis school accommodates any overflow with a closed-circuit television broadcast in its auditorium, Dirnbeck decided last fall he wanted that broadcast to be distributed more widely over the Internet.

He estimated the high school's inaugural Webcast this year was viewed by 125 people, and it was a big hit with one family who relocated from Louisiana in 2005, after their home was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.

"They had relatives who were still in Louisiana and were not able to make the trip who got a chance to see it," Dirnbeck said.

Since '03
The University of Pennsylvania has been Webcasting graduation ceremonies since 2003, said university secretary Leslie Kruhly. The university places no restrictions on invitations, but the broadcasts provide a service for those who cannot attend and help alumni stay connected to the school, she said.

Before the Webcasts, "we'd give summaries or post pictures, but it just wasn't as satisfying," Kruhly said.

Not all colleges are embracing the trend. Webcasting would not be practical at Pennsylvania State University, which holds about a dozen different ceremonies at its flagship University Park campus alone, university spokesman Bill Mahon said.

Penn State's ceremonies can accommodate thousands of people, Mahon said.

"The audiences for the Webcasts would be small," he said.

But Northampton Community College's Webcast proved to be a godsend for Linda Readinger, who was sidelined with the flu.

Readinger, who lives within 15 minutes of the campus, said she got a better view of her 21-year-old son Kyle from the video feed on her home computer than her husband and Kyle's girlfriend did from the back row of the school's gymnasium.

"I felt like I was actually on stage with him," Readinger said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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