WESLEY CHAPEL — They've been the best of friends through all four years of high school. Forged enough collective memories to last a lifetime — some of the best spent on the field playing soccer for Wesley Chapel High. Then there were the pep rallies, potluck dinners on Thursday evenings at Millie's house, prom at Ray Jay Stadium, someone's bright idea to tie dye T-shirts for "class color day" during homecoming week.
Epic failure. Had to go to the store to buy five more white shirts and start from scratch.
But on Wednesday, after finishing the last graduation practice, Karissa Sandoval, Kayla Boundy, Gladys "Millie" Fernandez, Victoria Ponce and Jessica Sepulveda celebrated success in getting a coveted front row spot as nearly 300 fellow seniors, dressed in blue and white, formed a giant "2011" on the football field for the traditional panoramic picture for Wesley Chapel High's graduating class.
The five friends, forming the base of a number "1," flipped through the 2011 yearbook, exchanged light-hearted chatter and commiserated about what comes next.
"I'm definitely going to miss everybody," Jessica said.
"I think it's going to be exciting," Kayla said.
"We're starting a new chapter of our lives," Victoria said.
"Yes, but we're still going to stick together," Karisssa said, as economics teacher Mathew Kirouac helped the crew from Gigante Productions herd seniors into legible order.
"Shannon — move into the 'O.' "
"John — put your arms down."
"Sean — GET DOWN!"
"Nick — NICK! — Just find a spot, man."
"Everyone look up here!"
It was the last time for seniors to gather informally as a class before the graduation ceremony at the Tampa Bay Convention Center.
Now they were instructed to head back to the gymnasium to line up for caps and gowns and honor cords — the next thing to cross off the senior "to-do" list before leaving campus for the last time.
The Class of 2011 is a "pretty good bunch," Kirouac said.
"They are hard-working and driven," added senior guidance counselor Keri Youngman. "They are vivacious. Their school spirit in general is admirable. They've just been a very good group all-around. I'm very excited for them."
Now they're getting ready to move on.
"It's scary — really scary — to go from having a set schedule and doing the same thing every day to going out there," said Ryan James, as his friend Adele Lashley, wearing a powder blue "Wesley Chapel Wildcats" T-shirt, draped a red honor cord around his neck.
Next on the agenda? A job interview with Pepsi for Ryan. After that he's planning on staying close to home to study business at Pasco-Hernando Community College. Adele is bound for Florida Atlantic University to study biological science.
"I'll be four hours away," Adele said, as seniors filtered out into the parking lot. "But we'll stay in touch."
Michele Miller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.