WESLEY CHAPEL — The high, lonesome whistle of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme blared from a nearby classroom as a group of Wiregrass Ranch High School seniors broke ground outside.
"It's high noon at the Ranch," principal Ray Bonti said, grinning, as he watched the students dig in front of the school's "Welcome to the Ranch" sign near the front entrance. "We're doing a burial. We had to have some appropriate music."
Senior Shekeinah Hill laughed and then cheered as the hard dirt gave way beneath her shovel to make a hole for the silvery time capsule that contained mementos and written memories from dozens of the school's largest graduating class.
"I personally put in a CD of the college I'm going to," said Hill, 18, who plans to attend Hillsong International Leadership College in Australia. "I also put in a letter of my personal hopes."
Swimmer Brandan Leroche included goggles, a swim cap and a Speedo from his competitions. Destiny Gonzalez added the Kings of Leon music that inspired her through her four years of high school.
From the school's fourth-year drama class came a video of dozens of seniors who talked about their experiences at school and wishes for the future.
"We wanted to do a video that was real," explained Lauren Perez, 18, one of the organizers. "We wanted to do something that would mean something years later."
The plan, they said, is to unearth the capsule for their 10-year reunion to see how many of them achieved their goals and how much things have changed over a decade.
As they prepared Monday to bury it, the students reminisced about their time together as the very first class to spend four years at Wiregrass Ranch High.
"We're a really diverse group of people," said senior class president Kelsey Sturman, 17, who heads to Duke University in the fall. "I'm really proud of everything we've accomplished."
Joy Benson talked about how the school helped her grow and mature.
"I'm a completely different person than I was," said Benson, 17, who plans to attend Hillsborough Community College.
Caitlyn Millard, 18, came to Wiregrass Ranch as a sophomore, a military child who had attended two other high schools. She remembered being welcomed despite being an outsider, with the drama students listening to her ideas and encouraging her to join the activities.
Now she's ready to study cultural anthropology at HCC and then head to either the University of Central Florida or New College.
Leroche, who heads to the College at Brockport State University of New York on a swimming scholarship, said he found the kids in drama equally open to him when he wound up with the advanced course mistakenly on his senior schedule.
"They encouraged me to be a more creative person," said Leroche, 17. "In college, people that make you come out of your comfort zone are most important."
Like others, Perez praised Bonti for creating an atmosphere that makes their school a place they want to be.
"He listens to what we say," she said as others remembered the principal dressing up for Nerd Day, and mentioned how he paid for the time capsule. "He's so open. You can walk with him and talk with him."
Bonti had plenty of good things to say about his senior class, too: "This bunch is even a little more successful than the past classes."
And he can't wait to hear how things have gone for them when they come back to unearth the time capsule.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.