PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -

Family, students, staff and hundreds altogether paid their final respects Wednesday to Ponte Vedra High School principal Craig Speziale, who lost his battle with colon cancer on Saturday.

Speziale was the only principal in the school's six-year history.

The 51-year-old principal seemed to connect with students in a unique and memorable way. His students and some of his friends shared some of those memories at his funeral.

"Think about his last name: In Italian, Speziale means special. He was that," friend Dean Roberts said. "Always picked me up, always looked at the brighter side, at the glass half full, which he did with his fight here with cancer. Always positive, always thinking that he had it beat."

"Yesterday was a rough day," junior Mark Harris said. "Not much work, just reviewing what a great life he had and sharing our stories."

Students said it's been hard on campus since their principal died. There have been lots of tears.

"Everybody -- students, teachers, faculty -- everybody, just a really sad day to be at school," student Hannah Santillo said.

"It's been somber. Teachers knew him well, and he talked to students too, so everyone had a good relationship with him," junior Miles Silva said. "It's just been different without him there. Just knowing he's gone, it's been a weird feeling."

Tougher, still, may have been the relationships Speziale had with adults. Superintendent Joe Joyner called the principal more than a colleague, but a friend.

"He had great balance of skill as principal and great personal relational skills that I think are unique in a lot of leaders, and he turned out better than I expected," Joyner said. "Obviously, you can see the love here that everyone had for him, both students and staff alike. So we're going to miss him. I'm going to miss him."

At the viewing Tuesday night, one friend estimated more than 500 people attended. Hundreds more attended Speziale's funeral to honor him.

The Speziales have asked that in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Craig Speziale Memorial Scholarship. Contact Ponte Vedra High School for more information on the scholarship fund or go to the Facebook page.