WESLEY CHAPEL — It's been a little quiet this past week, a little less hectic in the hallways at Wesley Chapel High. Call it the calm after the storm.
Text books have been passed in. Final exams are done. The senior cookout and Grad Bash have been added to the Class of 2010 collective memory file, along with prom, homecoming and the Senior Showcase talent show that almost didn't happen.
After 13 years of schooling, the seniors were dispatched after the last graduation practice on May 26 by principal Carin Nettles, who reminded them not to wear pink shoes or belt out cat-calls during the ceremony because “Everybody deserves to hear their name called."
"Graduation is Saturday so they're still definitely on our minds," Nettles said this week. "But there's something missing here. We're feeling the void. Close to 300 kids aren't here anymore."
School is still in session for the underclassmen at Wesley Chapel High, but the Class of 2010 has been banished. Word is, there will be repercussions for seniors who dare show their face on campus.
Save for one.
That would be student body president Kevin Mangal, who has returned every morning to greet the student body at 7:30 a.m. and lead the Pledge of Allegiance over the school's public announcement system.
It's a habit that's hard to break. A role that, he admits, he's loath to pass on even though he knows he has to.
"This might not be the typical senior mentality, but I like being here," said Kevin, a very involved kind of student who also served on the school's advisory council and as a primary anchor on the morning news show.
Brittany Troast, who shares the spot of valedictorian along with Chantel Houston, agrees that it's been hard to leave.
Sure she's enjoyed the break from all that school work: "It's nice to have a week where there's nothing due." And she's looking forward to training for a volunteer stint at the Florida Aquarium this summer and studying animal biology at the University of Florida come fall.
But she, too, felt a need to come back to cheer on the school's squad for the traditional spring football game held May 28.
"I really loved it — all of it," said Brittany, recalling the crazy, good times at Grad Bash and the weekend spent decorating the school hallway in an Emerald City theme — complete with rainbow and plywood castle — for Homecoming Week. "It's been fun all four years I've been there. We've got a good group of people. Down to earth. Everyone gets along with each other."
That, in part, is due to the example set by Nettles. After she took the reins as principal last August, she created an open door policy for students and, particularly, the senior class.
"They took advantage of that in a good way," said Nettles, who early on met with Kevin Mangal and other class leaders. "They had no issues about coming up and talking to me."
It was, no doubt, an empowering time, said Josh Lane, an outstanding Wildcat who spent much of his high school career racking up awards for the school's TV production class. (He capped off senior year by producing a tribute to his friend, Kevin Mangal; check it out at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNw2DshWJag .)
"Miss Nettles coming in this year really changed the attitude of the student body," Josh said. "She came in and set some different rules. Things became more lively — there was more school spirit."
"She was very up front," he said. "She talked to you and I thought that was kind of cool that you could be on that level with a principal."
And perhaps, share a mutual respect.
"I feel very proud of this class," Nettles said. "It's very emotional, even though I've been with them only a year. They have a great personality as a class. They work very well together. They have overcome a lot of different obstacles. Just when you think they're not going to come through on something — like a senior showcase — they pull if off in a way you could never imagine.
"I think that they exude what it means to always be a Wildcat," Nettles said. "I have felt that from the moment I arrived. They helped me connect in a real way and I know they will always connect with this high school."
That's a definite for Kevin, who is already thinking about how he can schedule next year's college classes to afford time to volunteer at his alma mater.
"I'm going to miss this school," he said, as he made his way this week down an empty hallway to the guidance office. "I'm so connected to it. Leaving here — I'm like, what am I going to do now?"
Michele Miller can be reached at email@example.com or at (727) 869-6251.