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Drive-by for ODU graduates ‘perfect’

Though cousins Aaliyah Drayton and Andre Drayton Jr. had to forgo a traditional cap-and-gown graduation for now, in some ways, they said what their families did to honor them Friday was even better.

Both graduates from Old Dominion University with degrees in criminal justice were honored with a parade of honking cars from other relatives in the Brewers Meadow neighborhood, some cars making a second lap around the neighborhood.

The two cousins, both 21, knew their families were up to something, but they didn’t know there would be upwards of 50 cars filled with relatives and friends offering gifts and congratulations as they passed by.

“I’m overjoyed,” said Aaliyah Drayton. “I didn’t think it would be this big.”

Andre Drayton Jr. couldn’t have asked for anything better.

“I really feel like they put everything together perfect,” he said, “as far as getting everybody together, still getting gifts. … just knowing that everybody’s still proud of us and that stuff can still be semi-normal. It’s a good feeling.”

The cousins grew up together and shared a number of classes together over the years, both going to Kilby Shores Elementary School, Forest Glen Middle School and Lakeland High School before they decided, separately, to attend Old Dominion and major in criminal justice.

After the decision to close ODU in March, they were unsure of what would happen next, except that they still needed to finish their classwork online in order to receive their degrees.

“Everybody left for spring break and never came back,” Andre Drayton Jr. said. “It’s like a scary movie.”

But without a graduation ceremony at the Ted Constant Convocation Center, as originally planned, how would their achievements be honored?

In a light rain early Friday evening, they got their answer, in a big and loud way.

Cars began gathering in the parking lot at Kilby Shores more than a half-hour before starting the procession, many bearing signs, balloons and gifts for the graduating cousins.

“Once they decided that they weren’t going to have the graduation ceremony,” said Ebony Drayton, Andre’s mother, “we decided to put something together for Aaliyah and Andre.”

But they, too, didn’t know it would get as big as it got.”

“We didn’t know it was going to fill the Kilby Shores parking lot,” Ebony Drayton said.

The cousins, and the other class of 2020 ODU graduates, are supposed to get a formal graduation ceremony in December. Though the drive-by ceremony was different, it was at once memorable and special. Because of limits on graduation tickets, not as many people would have been able to see the cousins graduate under normal circumstances. The drive-by gave more people a chance to celebrate with them.

“It’s just joyful, for real, because when everything happened with the social distancing and having to stay in the house, you felt like you were forgotten about,” Andre Drayton Jr. said. “Four years, and then you’ve got to go home to cancel the graduation, so you’re just like, ‘I worked so hard for this moment, and it’s like they just canceled it within minutes. Just seeing everybody coming out, just showing that they still remember that we’re still graduating, and they’re still proud of us, it just means a lot.”

Aaliyah Drayton said seeing everyone drive by and congratulate her and her cousin was even better than a graduation ceremony.

“It warmed my heart so much,” she said. “It made me not even think about (that) we’re not even walking (across the stage). It put all that behind me. I’m still happy. I’m so happy.”