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Wesley Chapel marks 135 firsts


© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001

WESLEY CHAPEL -- It was a night of lasts and a night of firsts Friday at Wesley Chapel High School.

For the 135 members of the Class of 2001, it was their last night as students.

And it was their first night as alumni, in the first ever graduation class in the 2-year-old high school's history.

There was the first performance of the new alma mater. The first valedictorian's words of encouragement. The first march across the stage. The first graduate.

"Tonight, it's all about us," said Kevin Cate, the school's first senior class president. "We did it. We took an ugly row of concrete blocks in a Pasco County sand mine, and we built history."

Principal Andrew Frelick -- the school's first -- said the entire year was groundbreaking.

"We're a big melting pot," he said. "Wesley Chapel is growing so quickly, everyone is new. New kids come in, and feel they can assimilate quickly. In other schools, everyone has gone to school with everyone else since kindergarten."

The school is so new, it didn't even have an alma mater until last week, when composer Jim Cheyne completed it, band director Mary Harvey said. The band rehearsed all week and performed it Friday.

There aren't any lyrics yet. Those will come, Harvey said.

"That's what's really neat about starting a new school," she said. "You start all these new traditions."

But like every graduation, there were also moments of old traditions.

Student council president James Cracchiolo, told his classmates that life should be a road trip. Don't spend too much time looking in the rearview mirror, and don't forget to look ahead.

"All you need is the open road," he said.

Salutatorian Yasmine Wilt thanked her teachers and urged all to remember the good times and work hard to make a bright future.

"People have probably told you all this is the best time of your life, but I know that is not true," she said. "All of you have the potential to go on and do great things."

Then valedictorian, Michelle Jackson, broke tradition with a most untraditional salute.

Clad in combat boots, Jackson romped through a wild lesson, comparing life to a doughnut. She produced a doughnut and took a bite.

"When you eat a doughnut, you leave something behind: the doughnut hole," she said. "Right now, we're sitting in a cosmic graveyard, surrounded by the doughnut holes."

But like a doughnut leaving its hole, a star also leaves something behind when it burns out: the light remains, traveling through space.

Jackson urged her classmates to choose wisely as they pass through life. Will they leave behind an empty hole or a brilliant light? she asked.

Jackson, as the school's top student, was the first to accept a diploma.

"Congratulations, graduates, and good luck," Assistant Principal Elizabeth Brown told the class as she certified the diplomas. "You will always hold a special place in Wesley Chapel High School's history."

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