For some parents, it’s a day filled with tears; for others, it means barely-stifled cheers. The first day of school inevitably invokes a host of emotions, and not just for the kids.

Firsts are notorious for dishing out a case of the feels. Whether you’re crying as you watch your little guy wave goodbye from the door to his kindergarten classroom or you’re dancing-like-no-one’s-watching after your kid boards the bus for junior high, the day is virtually guaranteed to be marked with some pretty intense emotions.

Kevin Scruggs knew this when he began a brilliant tradition of capturing short interviews with his daughter on video on the first day of school. The fact that he did this every year from kindergarten until her senior year in high school is what has the internet buzzing. He compiled the videos and played them in the background during her high school graduation party.

This 12 year project and tribute to his daughter, Mackenzie, has gone viral. It trended on Reddit’s front page, and was (briefly) YouTube’s number two video. It netted over a million views in a few weeks. As of this printing, the touching video is at over two million views on YouTube alone, and counting.

You can watch the video here. Fair warning though, you may get a case of the feels as you watch this young lady’s progression from spunky six-year-old to poised high school senior in fewer than five minutes.

Scruggs’ interviews with Mackenzie seemed pretty spontaneous. They were filmed at different locations, for example, and the questions he asked her varied somewhat as she grew up, though always ending with an exchange of “I love you.”

His idea is flat brilliant. And with a little tweaking, it could be even better.

Even if you’ve missed a few first days of school, if you start this fall, you can have an incredible gift for your kid on the day he or she walks across that stage to receive a high school diploma. The good news is that it’s easy. The even better news is that it’s quick. And the best news is that it’s free.

To make your own First Days of School Compilation Video, start with the basics. The camera on your smart phone will do just fine. There is no need to invest scads of cash in a fancy-pants camera. If you upgrade over the years, that’s great, but to get started, just use what you’ve got on hand.

Make sure, however, that you save the video properly. Consider saving it in the Cloud rather than on a device – any device. Physical media has a shelf life. Optical media like CDs and DVDs are frustratingly unreliable. They can literally rot. Plus, they can break, get lost, or wind up being a pain in the butt to access once technology has moved on (which it will). So do yourself a favor by saving it in cyberspace – preferably in multiple places.

Bonus points for setting up an email address on behalf of your child, mailing them the video file each year, and presenting them with the password when they graduate. Better safe than sorry. This is a 12 year project, after all.

Before you start your first round of interviews, whip up a few questions that you will ask every single year. It will make for a great conversation piece around the graduation party food table. You can compare your son’s first grade answers to “What do you want to be when you grow up,” to his answers as a senior. Imagine how cool it will be to run a clip montage of your daughter’s answers over the years to “Who is the coolest person in the world?”

Keep your list of interview conversation starters short. You don’t want to make this something your child dreads. Don’t do this interrogation style. It needs to be conversational. Your goal is to make it fun (and eventually super meaningful) and to establish an annual tradition you both look forward to as summer comes to a close.

Consider making the videos in the same place every year. Include the same piece of furniture or the same tree in the front yard in your shot. This offers viewers an important reference point. In addition, if you choose a reference point background item like a tree, you can make obvious comparisons to growth.

Another fun possibility involves including an inanimate object that shows age (e.g., your child’s favorite toy or blanket at age five). Including reference objects and keeping the backdrop consistent isn’t vital, but it can make for far more interesting video-editing possibilities when you’re done.

Tip sheet

  • Include the same living or inanimate object in every video, preferably one that can show visible aging (e.g., child’s favorite toy, treehouse in the backyard).
  • Video in the same location every time (e.g., the kitchen table, the child’s bedroom, the bus stop).
  • Create a list of questions you ask every year, but leave room for some additional, developmentally-appropriate ones as they age.
  • Save your videos to the cloud in multiple locations if possible.

Sample Questions

  • Tell me about your first day in [insert grade] in [insert name of teacher’s] class.
  • How are you different this year than last year?
  • Can you please show me your backpack and the most important things inside it?
  • What was your favorite part of the day today?
  • What do you think your life will be like when you’re old like Mom and Dad?
  • What are your hopes and dreams for this year in school? Out of school?
  • What’s your favorite meal and what do you say we wrap this up and go eat it to celebrate?

What are some of your favorite back-to-school traditions? Chime in on the comments below.