Make us your home page
Instagram

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.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

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 buie@sptimes.com 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

Loading...
  1. Man charged with threatening Florida lawmaker on Facebook

    Blogs

    From The Associated Press:

    MIAMI — A Florida man has been charged with threatening to kill a state legislator in a Facebook post. 

    This booking photo released by the Miami-Dade Police Department shows Steve St. Felix, who has been charged with threatening to kill Republican state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in a Facebook post.
  2. Joe Maddon: What my time in Tampa Bay meant, and still means, to me

    The Heater

    Editor's note: The Rays next week in Chicago will meet up for the first time with former manager Joe Maddon, who is in his third year leading the Cubs after nine with the Rays. In advance of the Tuesday-Wednesday series, we asked Maddon to share his thoughts in a column on what his time in Tampa Bay meant to …

    Joe Maddon waits to greet B.J. Upton after Upton's home run in Game 2 of the ALCS in 2008 at Tropicana Field. [Times files (2008)]
  3. First WannaCry, now cyberattack Petya spreads from Russia to Britain

    Business

    Computer systems from Russia to Britain were victims of an international cyberattack Tuesday in a hack that bore similarities to a recent one that crippled tens of thousands of machines worldwide.

    A computer screen cyberattack warning notice reportedly holding computer files to ransom, as part of a massive international cyberattack, at an office in Kiev, Ukraine, on Tuesday.  A new and highly virulent outbreak of malicious data-scrambling software appears to be causing mass disruption across Europe.
[Oleg Reshetnyak via AP]
  4. Pinellas sheriff's corporal had racist, sexist, pornographic content on his cell phone

    Public Safety

    LARGO — A Pinellas County sheriff's corporal resigned recently after an investigation into an alleged extramarital affair revealed a trove of racist, sexist and pornographic images on his personal cell phone.

    Shawn Pappas, 46, resigned as a training division corporal from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office after an investigation revealed a trove of offensive images and videos on his phone. This photo was taken as a screenshot from one of the videos released by the Sheriff's Office that Pappas filmed while on duty. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
  5. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine reflects on the news from the Congressional Budget Office analysis that could imperil GOP leaders' hopes of pushing their health care the plan through the chamber this week, Tuesday, on Capitol Hill in Washington. [AP photo]