WESLEY CHAPEL — Anna Caldwell and Cora Nimtz met in eighth grade at Pineview Middle School. Too young to drive, they hung around each other's houses. Then came high school, and playing music in bedrooms was replaced by road trips in a Mazda Protege.
Now the pair stood in line together in the gym at Wiregrass Ranch High School's senior checkout, where they and about 400 classmates settled all debts, filled out forms, left contact information for future class reunions and collected any earned honor cords: white for cum laude, silver for magna and burgundy for summa.
And for the first time, they tried on caps and gowns — the uniform that tells the world "I am officially an adult."
"We were crazy," said Cora recalled. "We did obscure things." Those things included celebrating Cinco de Mayo and shopping in thrift stores before it became mainstream.
The 18-year-olds soon will separate, with Cora heading to Louisiana State University to study history and archaeology and Anna staying closer to home to take nursing at Pasco-Hernando Community College.
They plan to take full advantage of Facebook.
"I think I'll do it old school and write letters," Cora joked.
Across the noisy gym, girls in thigh-high skirts and 4-inch heels and guys in mostly jeans got in a few more hugs and posed for photos shot with cell phones. One girl raised her index finger and pinky to form the "I love you" sign.
At one table, four guys cracked jokes and recalled how they aggravated one sixth-grade teacher identified as Mr. D.
"After that we've been best friends forever," said 17-year-old Austin Bartleson.
While some reminisced with friends, Meghan Brunson shared a poignant moment with her mom. "Ready to be a grown-up yet?" 39-year-old Jennifer Mauro asked her daughter as she slipped off the silver cap and gown she'd just tried on.
"I take her everywhere with me," said Meghan, 18. However, she'll be leaving soon for Full Sail University in Orlando, where she can become a video game designer in less than two years.
"She said I better be on Facebook 24/7," joked Meghan.
For Gabe Albert, 18 and the school band's drum major, graduation marks an institutional milestone as well as a personal one.
"This is the first real, four-year class," said Albert, who recalled how the school began in portables at Weightman Middle School in 2006 before moving to its permanent campus in Meadow Pointe later that year.
"We've come a long way," he said. "Juniors just don't know that."