Hundreds of University of Virginia students and friends of Hannah Graham gathered Saturday for a memorial service at her alma mater, West Potomac High School near Alexandria.
Speakers from all parts of Graham’s life — professors, high school friends, fellow members of the college ski club — came together to honor a young woman they described as caring, generous and a bit sassy.
Graham, 18, a U-Va. sophomore from Fairfax County, disappeared in the early hours of Sept. 13 in the Downtown Mall area of Charlottesville. Her body was found six weeks later on an abandoned property outside the college town in Albemarle County. Police arrested Jesse L. Matthew Jr., 32, on charges related to her disappearance.
John Graham, the teenager’s father, began the program by speaking about his daughter’s life from her birth, through adolescence and to the evening she disappeared.
In an interview with The Washington Post on Friday, he described the wrenching uncertainty of the six-week-long search and the devastating loss the family felt when her body was discovered.
“Our lives have totally changed,” Graham told The Post. “We are really trying to make the best of what we can.”
The search for Hannah Graham made headlines around the world. John Graham said that strangers on the street have stopped him to offer encouraging words. The family received one card from Australia.
“The public response has been very supportive and uplifting for us,” Graham said. “It was so random, and a lot of people thought, ‘It could have been my daughter.’ ”
The program in West Potomac’s auditorium included performances by the high school’s band. Graham had played alto saxophone with the jazz ensemble and marching band on the same stage.
It was appropriate for the service to take place where “Hannah made music,” teacher Steve Rice said.
In Graham’s memory, Rice led West Potomac students through two hits by Elvis Presley, her favorite rock star: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” and “Love Me Tender.”
The stage was decorated with a chair constructed out of skis that her parents adorned with roses. The backdrop was a picture of Graham sitting in the chair, smiling at the camera. Other photos showed her as a child sledding on a snow day, fishing off a pier, and smiling in her cap and gown at graduation in 2013, holding her diploma.
“Hannah was always able to steal the show,” John Graham said Saturday.
Graham’s high school teachers said she was a straight-A student who offered to help peers with complicated math homework. History teacher Nicole Borghard said Graham was a conscientious student who so typically aced quizzes that when Borghard noticed that Graham appeared to have answered a question incorrectly, the teacher checked the answer key, frequently finding that the teenager was right .
Graham was also known as a spunky and outgoing girl with a wry sense of humor. For one assignment, she made a rap video outlining how a bill becomes law to the tune of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop.”
Graham could be spontaneous as well. Friends recalled once conspiring with her to skip high school classes and spend a day in the District, where she rode the carousel on the Mall.
Graham’s West Potomac math teacher Allison Satterwhite said that Graham was well known for her sassy jokes.
In a letter to fellow math students, Graham wrote that they should be “nice to your teachers. But not too nice, then you might seem creepy.”
Lani Galloway, a U-Va. student who met Graham during a trip with Habitat for Humanity to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to rebuild homes destroyed by tornados, said that Graham “brought humor to every moment you spent with her.”
Bob Burnett, who served as Graham’s academic adviser at U-Va., said that she “was insightful, she was engaging, she was encouraging, capable, collaborative and compassionate.”
As the service drew to a close, Graham’s mother, Sue Graham, thanked those in attendance for their support. Then she and her husband walked out of the room, arm in arm.