Wednesday, March 29, 2023

What a rollercoaster: WJCC announces outdoor graduation ceremonies at Busch Gardens

Graduation is around the corner but will high school seniors get a "normal" ceremony during the coronavirus? (WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
Graduation is around the corner but will high school seniors get a “normal” ceremony during the coronavirus? (WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

Seniors from the Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools can have a “normal” graduation ceremony this year despite the coronavirus pandemic.

The school district announced Friday the 2020 graduates can receive their diploma in person and walk across the stage in an outdoor ceremony –––at Busch Gardens.

“The Class of 2020 has experienced its share of ups and downs this school year,” according to the news release from the district. “It’s only fitting to celebrate their rollercoaster senior year with a modified outdoor ceremony at the home of the rollercoaster – Busch Gardens.”

Eileen Cox, spokeswoman for WJCC, said the students will drive cars with their families in a procession to the parking lot at Busch Gardens with less than six students exiting the vehicles at a time.

She added the students’ family members will stay in the car while the students march to the outdoor stage get their names read by the principal, walk across the stage to receive their diploma before exiting the stage and returning to their vehicle.

Other graduates can see their classmates graduate on big screen in the first parking lot and the school district will post videos online after the ceremony since WJCC can’t livestream because of technical issues, Cox said.

Each graduate gets a graduation video which includes student speeches and photos from the outdoor ceremony as well as two, 5-by-7 photos from a professional photographer, according to the news release.

“We’re still finalizing some of the logistical details,” Cox said. “It’s going to be a hybrid between a drive-thru and a walk up.”

Here’s the schedule:

  • Lafayette High School – Friday, June 12, at 3 p.m.
  • Jamestown High School – Saturday, June 13, at 9 a.m.
  • Warhill High School – Saturday, June 13, at 3 p.m.

In the days leading up to graduation, seniors can take a photo in their cap and gown at the high school near the school rock or with their respective high school mascot and on June 11, seniors can decorate their cars and drive on Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg while music and messages play from the radio.

Here is the schedule:

  • Lafayette High School at 9 a.m.
  • Jamestown High School at noon
  • Warhill High School at 3 p.m.

Each high school will showcase its senior class on social media with photos and the community is encouraged to display signs posting on social media using the hashtags #WJCCGrad2020 and #WeAreWJCC, according to the news release.

“I think they did a great job, I think it’s fantastic,” said Donna Underwood, a Realtor with eXp Realty, whose son, Braden, graduates from Lafayette High School this year. “I think everybody is going to be really happy with it.”

Underwood likes how there are multiple things happening for the seniors: They can get their picture taken, participate in a car parade down and of course, the graduation at Busch Gardens.

While she admits everyone is sad it won’t be a “normal” graduation ceremony, she said she feels the option is safe and thanked the school board for doing such a great job.

“I think the fact that everyone’s in their car solves that,” she said. “Even though it’s not going to be normal, I think that they are doing the right thing and I think they really made up for a lot of the heartbreak for the kids with all the extras that they are doing.”

But not everyone is thrilled about the graduation plans.

“Well I’m really glad they chose to skip virtual and actually try to come up with something that gives seniors some recognition,” said Jennifer Tisdale, a senior at Jamestown High School who created an online petition asking the school board to hold in-person ceremonies before August. “I am disappointed they decided to schedule this this soon.”

Tisdale said she would have liked the school board to wait until August to possibly have an in-person graduation ceremony, noting Home Depot and Walmart are allowed to have their stores open with 50 percent capacity.

“It’s hard for me to understand why graduates couldn’t do it, too,” she added.

Tisdale wants the school board to explore other options such as renting a stadium “instead of saying they are done with it now and there’s nothing more they can do.”

“Bruton is having them all get out of their cars in the parking lot and turning their tassels together,” she said.

But ultimately, she is thankful to have a ceremony.

“I’m really thankful for everyone who participated in that petition,” she said, noting the school board was leaning toward a virtual graduation ceremony previously. “I think that made a really big impact.”


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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