Wednesday, February 28, 2024

After multiple setbacks, Grafton seniors celebrate unique graduation

Despite a damp morning, many came out in full spirits for the ceremony. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)
Despite a damp morning, many came out in full spirits for the ceremony. (Alexa Doiron/WYDaily)

The graduates of Grafton High School have had a more unique senior year than most, but on Friday morning hundreds came out with their families to celebrate a new beginning.

Students of Grafton High School were rocked in February when their facility experienced an electrical fire that caused middle and high school students to readjust their visions of the school year.

Not long after, the coronavirus pandemic shutdown in-person education altogether and seniors found themselves without ways to commemorate their final months with their friends.

But the York County School Division stepped up to plan a drive-thru graduation ceremony for seniors throughout the county.

“Honestly, we’ve had anything but a normal senior year,” said graduate Gabriella Barfoot. “I think it’s just one example of how we can really come together and be super resilient even in the face of crazy times.”

Christy Swindler, a Grafton math teacher and mother of graduate Janie Swindler, said after being with the students for four years and seeing how they’ve made it through tough situations, she’s more than proud to stand at their graduation. 

“They’re a very resilient class,” she said. “And they’re learning a lot of empathy through all the stuff they’ve had to overcome this year.”

But even in the face of adversity, Grafton High School graduates and their families still filled the damp parking lot of Bailey Field in cars decked out with posters, balloons and photos of the proud students.

Guests sat in their cars and took pictures or reminisced on their graduate’s accomplishments — many came to the event more than an hour before it started.

“I’ve waited 18 years to see this,” said Angela Brown, mother of graduate Jalen Brown. “I’m so full of emotion, I know I’m going to burst. Especially because at first we thought there wouldn’t be a graduation ceremony.”

But as the sound of “Pomp and Circumstance” echoed through the parking lot, seniors sat up quickly and adjusted their caps in preparation for the big moment.

Senior class officers and other student leaders sat at the front of the ceremony, with chairs distanced six-feet from each other. 

Salutatorian Nathen Geng and valedictorian Chelsea Wang rose from their seats and gave confident speeches to the resounding sounds of car horns and far-off cheers echoing across the parking lot. 

Staff directed the rows of vehicles into a moving line where students were deposited under a tent, handed their diploma and then walked across stage for photos while the line of moving cars slowly drove past.

Many families took advantage of the close-up experience and slowed their cars to match their student’s pace, some with mothers and fathers hanging out of doors to take photos.

York County School Division held graduation ceremonies at Bailey Field throughout the week, with the final ceremony being for Tabb High School at 6 p.m. Friday.


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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