Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Best friends are the best of Wesley Chapel High Class of 2008

Wesley Chapel High School: Valedictorian Natalie Wells, left, and salutatorian Katie Diaz enter the Sun Dome before graduation Thursday.


Wesley Chapel High School: Valedictorian Natalie Wells, left, and salutatorian Katie Diaz enter the Sun Dome before graduation Thursday.

TAMPA — The two best friends, bookend speakers at Wesley Chapel High School's graduation, have reminisced about the good times: the bad batch of banana muffins made at 4:30 a.m. that still draw laughs, the practical jokes, the scrapbooks crammed with photos, the hugging and squealing after hearing they finished at the top of their class.

But for salutatorian Katie Diaz, valedictorian Natalie Wells and the rest of the Class of 2008, their high school years are also defined by the three empty chairs on the back row.

Draped with pink roses and programs, they would have held the three seniors whose lives were cut short in car accidents this school year.

There was one for Matthew Laidley, who aimed to take the most advanced placement courses in school history and become a rocket scientist. He was a passenger in an Isuzu Trooper driven by a classmate that rolled over near the school less than a month after classes began. Two other chairs represented Tabatha Pastrana, a day care worker who planned to study journalism at the University of Miami, and her friend Kristin Gaskin, who wanted to be a psychologist. Both girls were killed a month ago when Tabatha's car flipped on Interstate 75.

Katie and Natalie, both close friends with Matthew, said his death affected the rest of the school year.

"It was one of those things that rock your world," Katie said. "We kind of helped each other through it."

"We experienced pain at Wesley Chapel High School," said senior class president Christina Choe. But "those pains have made us stronger."

Administrators placed the roses in the back row, behind the students. They didn't call the dead students' names but did prepare their diplomas for families.

Indeed, Matthew wouldn't have wanted that, said his best friend, Matthew Passardi.

Had he been there, "he would have made a big joke about it," Passardi said.

Matthew Laidley's mother, Maria, was among the crowd at the Sun Dome. She said earlier in the week that her son would have wanted her there. She also wanted to see his friends.

"It's almost like this is the creme de la creme of who we want our kids to be," she said of the Class of 2008.

After the ceremony, assistant principal Jennifer Crosby scooped up the rose, diploma and extra programs and scanned the crowd for the Laidleys, but they had left. "I don't want to be a big fat wet blanket," Maria Laidley said earlier this week.

Despite the theme of death and loss, the day was marked mainly by the traditional trappings of graduation. Girls in 4-inch stiletto heels gingerly negotiated the stage steps. Boys did victory dances similar to end zone celebrations. Principal Andrew Frelick proudly announced that he had become a grandfather that morning when granddaughter Rylie, all 9 pounds and a quarter ounce of her, arrived at 7:30 a.m.

As a result, he said, he'll always remember the Class of 2008.

Lisa Buie can be reached at or (813) 909-4604.

>>fast facts

Scholars, athletes

Number of graduates: 522

Bright Futures scholarship winners: 136

Number of honor graduates: 200

Class song: Come So Far from Hairspray

Also: Three members of the girls soccer team, Janessa Gunn, Jordan Hendrix and Meredith Dean, won athletic scholarships.

Best friends are the best of Wesley Chapel High Class of 2008 06/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, June 5, 2008 9:07pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs start strong vs. Jaguars


    JACKSONVILLE — On his worst pass of Thursday's preseason game against the Jaguars, Jameis Winston threw a ball from the seat of his pants toward the end zone and it appeared to be intercepted by safety Barry Church.

    Doug Martin gets the Bucs’ only touchdown of the first half on a 2-yard run, squeaking past Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith in the first quarter.
  2. Evening update: Tropical Storm Harvey forms in Atlantic, second wave follows


    UPDATE: At 8 p.m. the National Hurricane Center said a hurricane hunter plane had determined that Tropical Storm Harvey had formed with sustained winds of 40 mph.

    Three tropical waves are expected to strengthen as they move across the Atlantic Ocean. [Courtesy of the National Hurricane Center]
  3. Trump 'beautiful statues' tweets roil Tampa Bay's own Confederate debate


    It started Thursday at 9:07 a.m., as it does so often these days, with a tweet:

    The Memoria in Aeterna Confederate monument stands in front of the old Hillsborough County Courthouse. Hillsborough County Commissioners voted 4-2 last month to move it to a private cemetery in Brandon before voting again this week to put a deadline on a public sector fundraising campaign to pay part of the cost. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  4. Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    TORONTO — The signs of frustration were readily apparent as the Rays trudged toward home Thursday after another game littered with squandered opportunities evolved into another wasted day in the wild-card race with a 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays.

    Rays reliever Tommy Hunter reacts as Justin Smoak circles the bases after hitting a go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth.
  5. Spanish PM voices solidarity with Barcelona


    BARCELONA, Spain — Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says his country is mourning in solidarity with the city of Barcelona and other cities in Europe that have been hit by deadly extremist attacks.

    An injured person is treated in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017 after a white van jumped the sidewalk in the historic Las Ramblas district, crashing into a summer crowd of residents and tourists and injuring several people, police said. [Associated Press]