Hilarie Burton Discusses “Magical” Upbringing in Sterling Park

Burton returned home October 14th, 2023, to reveal to the crowd packed into Park View’s auditorium exactly what makes Sterling Park magical.
Hilarie Burton on Park Views stage October 14th, promoting her newest book Grimoire Girl.

(Photo by Angie Ratana.)
Hilarie Burton on Park View’s stage October 14th, promoting her newest book Grimoire Girl. (Photo by Angie Ratana.)

Over a thousand Park View High School students walk past their school seal, set in tile in the main foyer, every day, most likely with no idea that a celebrity helped create it. 

The school seal displayed in the main foyer. Photographer: Celeste Edwards.

The Park View High School seal was created in part by Hilarie Burton, TV star and Park View High School 2000 grad, in her senior year. 

“There was a committee of kids that she [the principal at the time] got together and they were like, ‘what’s important to you guys that we put into this Park View High School seal?’ And my contribution was Vestal’s Gap Road…I love that road,” Burton said. 

A close-up on Burton’s contribution to the seal. Photo by Celeste Edwards.

Her awareness of the road (which runs through local Claude Moore Park), and her love of it, stems from a history fair project she completed for a now-retired Park View history teacher named Janet Dye, who impacted Burton greatly during her time at Park View. 

Vestal’s Gap Road is just one of the memory lanes that led Burton to choose her alma mater as a stop on her book tour for her latest book, Grimoire Girl

Closeup of the book’s cover, from the publisher Harper Collin’s website on Grimoire Girl: https://www.harpercollins.com/pages/grimoire-girl

The Event

On October 14th, 2023, Burton arrived at Park View High School in preparation for the ~500 fans she would appear before at 2 PM in the Park View auditorium.   

Park View’s foyer was filled with copies of Grimoire Girl that attendees could purchase as they streamed through the doors on their way to the auditorium. 

An attendee purchases a copy of Grimoire Girl from Burton’s staff. Photo by Anderson Robles.

For about an hour and a half, Burton and fans sat in the auditorium discussing the contents of Grimoire Girl and the many inspirations for it. Then, attendees left for the gym, where they took a “class photo” on the bleachers.

From the gym, a meet-and-greet for Burton was held in the library. Fans approached Burton, had a conversation with her, and took photos with her. All proceeds from those who purchased meet-and-greet tickets went to the Park View Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). 

Amy Gazes, president of the Park View PTSA, described the results of Burton’s fund-raising efforts as “life changing money for our Title 1 school,” going on to say, “Hilarie Burton is a force, a powerhouse celebrity who has stayed humble and remained true to her roots of growing up in Sterling Park. Her heart and generosity have never wavered, and her book tour stop at Park View High School further solidifies her loyalty to our school and community.”

For the first hour in the auditorium, Burton took questions about Grimoire Girl (and more) from what she described (jokingly) as, “the gauntlet of all of [her] [old] teachers,” leaving the last half-hour for questions from the audience. 

“The gauntlet”, or panel of moderators, consisted of eight women whom Burton felt “nurture[d] her and ma[d]e her feel safe and comfortable” at the different schools she attended during her Loudoun County Public Schools journey: Janet Dye, Peggie Dar, Pam Smith, Patricia Land, Kathleen Bleutge, who sat off-stage, Bobbie Johnson, Nicole Spage, and A.J. (Amy) Greely. See captions of the following photos to discover how each teacher affected Burton personally. 

Beyond making her feel safe and comfortable at school, these were the women who also taught Burton to write, something she found important to honor on her book tour. 

“I found out right before I got in the car the other night that the book was an instant New York Times Bestseller, and that’s a big deal!” Burton said on October 14th. “As a college dropout, I don’t have college professors that can claim that victory; it’s the teachers of Sterling Park that taught me all the things that I know, that I could then go off, and write a book like this,” Burton said. 

The moderators discussed both fond memories of Burton within their classrooms and the contents of Grimoire Girl, a book which follows the structure of a grimoire – a collection of texts a wizard or witch referred to for instruction on magic – by containing the lessons Burton learned growing up in Sterling Park, and the additions she’s made to them over the course of her adult life.

During the book tour stop, Burton revealed the structure of Grimoire Girl: the first section is about Loudoun County, the second section is about the “haunted house” Burton lived in while shooting One Tree Hill in the early 2000s in Wilmington, North Carolina, and the third section is about the farm she has made her home in Rhinebeck, New York. Grimoire Girl explores the commonalities between these places, with an emphasis on finding what is magical in the everyday experience. 

Magical Sterling

There are a few things about the Sterling Park area that made Burton feel as though she lived someplace magical. One of them was her history fair project for Janet Dye, which explored the Vestal’s Gap Road and its importance to American history. 

The Road has been registered with the National Register of Historic Places for its importance to Northern Virginia transportation in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Additionally, it was utilized by notable military officers, British General Edward Braddock and Virginia Colonel George Washington, during the French and Indian War.  

“When I was a kid, finding out that this big, huge history happened literally at the back end of this building [Park View] was crazy. It was just crazy for me to fathom,” Burton said. “There was so much in the dirt here in Sterling that made me feel like we lived in a magical place – therefore, we must all be magical creatures. I still feel that way.”

Another “magical” aspect of Sterling, Burton feels, is the town legends. One legend of Burton’s youth revolved around the water tower just beside the elementary school she attended as a child, Sully Elementary. Her father told her a story about a monster – dubbed ‘The Claw’ – that lived on top of the water tower and participated in many kidnappings.

“Y’know, you have things like that in a suburban setting and they start to develop mythological…stories about them!” Burton said. 

Another legend is that of an old, white farmhouse on the corner of Route 7 – unfortunately, a legend that died with the destruction of the farmhouse. 

“There used to be this really creepy, old, white farmhouse, and I was obsessed with it,” Burton said. “The rumor was there was this wizard that lived in it that would, like, kidnap kids, and I was like, ‘oh, God, I have to see the wizard!’ And they said he wore a pointed hat…”

Other supernatural legends are said to be found within Park View. 

There is a general consensus among the current theater department members that a ghost lives in the auditorium. Burton confirmed during the book tour stop that this hypothesis existed during her time as an actress at Park View. 

According to current theater department member Ace Heck, the ghost lives up in the lightbox, and its pastimes include hijacking rehearsal time with pranks, including one incident where it turned off the stage lights and turned on other lights, which can only be controlled manually. 


According to Heck, no human was near the lightbox during the incident. 

Everlasting Sterling

According to Burton, a lot of things about Park View have remained the same across the 23 years between her graduation and today, the theater ghost legend included. 

“I love…when I hear that things are everlasting…in Sterling,” Burton commented upon hearing the longevity of the ghost legend. 

What else has remained the same? Well, for one, school traditions: spirit, spirit weeks, and pep rallies! The vigor of pep rallies, the superb talent of the band department, and Bermuda Day, a spirit day that consists of students dressing in tropical clothes during a cold-weather month, have all remained from Burton’s days as a student. 

“I think it’s so cool to see how the spirit of Park View Patriots has always remained the same, even though it’s been many, many decades,” Burton said. 

Heavily involved in school spirit are Park View’s cheerleaders, of which Burton was a part during her time at Park View, along with Ashley Dawson, a woman whom Burton described as her “childhood friend.” Their friendship is another element based in Park View that has remained over the last 23 years, as proven by Dawson’s appearance during the book signing. 

Diversity has remained a large part of Park View culture over the years, and Burton experienced a childhood similar to many current Park View students. 

“We were definitely, like, the most diverse school…I didn’t think anything of having friends from Iran, and from Cambodia! I had a best friend, y’know, that was teachin’ me cuss words in Cambodian in fifth grade, that I thought was real cool,” Burton said. “Like, one of the cooler things about living in Sterling Park is you’d go to your friends’ houses, and not just be introduced to their family, but being introduced to a totally different culture.”

Unfortunately, Park View was, and remains, a target for other schools in the county. Burton shared her experiences with the negative attention Park View received when she was a student  at her event, recalling how a cow field (now gone) outside Park View’s science wing used to make Herndon High School athletic players taunt Park View students during games, asking “‘y’all ride your cows over here?’” 

A similar incident to Herdon’s face-to-face teasing occurred recently, just one year ago on April 28th, 2022. 

After the Park View girls’ lacrosse team lost a game to Broad Run High School the evening of the 28th, members of the Broad Run team decided to make a virtual continuation of Herdon’s in-person taunts by posting a TikTok which made fun of the way the Park View team had played. 

At the event, Burton said that being looked down upon is “always gonna exist…and you get to decide whether that becomes fuel for you, or something that you feel like you have to hide from.” The 2022 field hockey team decided it was something they weren’t going to hide from. 

Co-coach Shannon Murray recalls how proud she and her co-coach Emily Canepa were of their team in April 2022 when the girls contacted Broad Run’s administration, managing, in the end, to obtain hand-written letters of apology from the players who made the disparaging TikTok. 

“It was resolved – and I think handled – pretty- pretty nicely. And pretty quickly,” Murray said.

Park View’s 2021 – 2022 Girls’ Lacrosse team. Coach Murray, our gracious interviewee, is highlighted in green. Thank you, Coach Murray!

Everchanging Sterling

“This place is totally different than when I grew up [the late ‘80s through the late ‘90s],” Burton said during the book signing. 

For one, the basic makeup of Sterling has changed from more rural to more suburban. Burton claimed that 9,000 people lived in Sterling when she was a Park View student, and the current population is about 31,000. 

She said that late-‘80s Sterling had “none of this [current] development” and “big business [only] moved to this community in the late ‘90s.”

Changes have happened within Park View, too, since Burton’s time as a student at the school. 

Park View only recently obtained Title I status, meaning that Burton did not grow up in a Title I Park View. 

Technologically, times have changed as well. Most current seniors, on track to graduate in June 2024, were issued personal chromebooks in the sixth grade, and Burton “didn’t get an email account until [her] senior year in high school.”

“We didn’t have social media; we didn’t have the internet; we were kinda the last batch of kids that were feral in Sterling Park,” she noted.

During the book tour stop, Burton revealed that Park View’s biggest rival during her years was Broad Run High School. This fact, according to students, has since changed to Dominion High School, another Loudoun County school whose doors opened three years after Burton graduated from Park View. 

The opportunity to join one group, the persuasion choir, a fusion of dance and song, has ceased to exist since Burton graduated. She described them as, “a big deal” during her time at Park View.

Members of Persuasion rehearsing, pictured in the 2000 Park View yearbook.

Happily Ever After

One thing that has remained unwavering for the past twenty-three years is Burton’s love for her high school, and the generosity she exercises because of it. 

While Burton has relocated to someplace with less development, a small farming community in New York state, someplace she describes as  “a carbon copy of what Sterling was in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s,” she continues to support Sterling’s current residents. 

One way she has offered her support is through her founding of Project Patriot, a fundraising campaign to re-institute Park View’s football team, in 2018. 

At the book tour stop, the results of Project Patriot’s efforts – $20,000 dollars – were presented by Project Patriot’s treasurer Ashley Dawson to Park View PTSA president Gazes.

But it doesn’t stop there! Burton gave the Park View PTSA a total of $40,000 dollars – $20,000 from Project Patriot, and $20,000 from the meet-and-greet tickets.

Gazes holds an envelope, handed to her by Dawson, most likely containing the Project Patriot $20,000 check, high in the air in triumph.
Photo by Angie Ratana.

“Project Patriot is gonna stay on as a fundraising arm for the PTSA, but you guys [PTSA] know where the money needs to be spent, and so it’s just our job to collect it and throw parties and make it so that you can get these kids everything they want. They deserve it,” remarked Burton after presenting the check.

Gazes wrote, “Thank you Hilarie, we are forever grateful for your beautiful heart and soul. GO PATRIOTS!!”




In memory of Sergeant Scott L. Kirpatrick, 1998 Park View graduate, recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, and fellow Park View actor alongside and friend of Hilarie Burton.

You are missed. 

A.J. Greely, who directed theater during Kirpatrick’s last two years as a Park View actor, sheds a few tears while discussing his memory with Burton.
(Photo by Angie Ratana)


May Mr. Bruce Johnson, who, together with Mrs. Johnson, inspired Burton to emulate them, “leav[ing] [her] kids this legacy…of service and community and inclusion” also rest in peace.

Mr. Johnson shows his dedication to the Park View community as he allows himself to be the victim of a dunking booth, pictured here in the 1996 yearbook, which came out the spring before Burton entered Park View.
1999 yearbook, Burton’s junior year.
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