They started out as the inaugural freshman class at a brand-new school. Newly drawn school boundaries brought them together. So did a desire to make their mark on a blank campus.
There were no seniors back then, no school spirit to build upon. Many students in the upper classes were still feeling the pull of the high schools they had previously attended. But Sunlake High's Class of 2011 was raring to go.
They stepped up in a big way. Started new clubs. Forged new traditions. Donned the school colors — teal and black — and took the lead at pep rallies and in the stands at sports events.
When senior year rolled around, they decided to come out as they came in, pulling together and overwhelmingly winning the coveted "Spirit Stick" during Homecoming week — the first senior class in the school's short history to do so. When one of their classmates, football player Alexander Rodriguez died suddenly, they comforted each other and held each other up, said senior class sponsor and drama teacher Carla Nolan.
"We've grown up with Sunlake," said student body president and Outstanding Senior Elaina Graham, as fellow students filed in Tuesday morning for a celebratory senior brunch at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz. "We've got some good spirit here. We didn't have the shadow of Land O'Lakes High hanging over us. None of us went (to school) there. We're the first class to claim ownership, the first class to feel like this was our school, to shape it and change it."
Now they are dubbed "The TRUE Class."
It's a well-earned honor, according to Nolan. She should know. She's watched them from the beginning.
They include kids like Hope Boyd, who choreographed the winning senior skit during Homecoming Week and now looks forward to "some great things" like opening her own dance studio someday.
Drama Club president Hayden Baker was "Kenickie" in this year's production of Grease. He pored through hundreds of submitted pictures and created the senior class video and will soon leave for the University of Central Florida to study film.
Chess team member David Domingo made the school proud and will head to the state competition in the coming weeks.
Megan Garvey was always willing to help out, serving in various positions on Student Council and helping plan last year's prom and this year's grad bash.
And Daniel Stanley was known for rousing the crowd with his "crazy loud voice," starting the wave at countless school sporting events and dressing up in a makeshift "Seahawks" mascot costume cobbled together with cardboard and feathers before the school came through with the real thing.
"I love them so much," Nolan said, taking time out to share one more hug with graduate Aaron Caracciolo. "They are all phenomenal. They came into a building that basically looked like a prison and made it a home. They love each other. Support each other. They sort of paved the way."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org