Students, teachers, parents and community members lined the street outside Long Beach Catholic Regional School Friday morning, clapping and cheering as Veronica Danca waved from a convertible.
The procession paused as children stepped up to hand their emotional principal colorful bouquets.
"It's been very overwhelming -- very overwhelming. It's been a gift and a blessing," said Danca, 67, who is retiring after 34 years as an educator at Long Beach Catholic.
Ever since Danca was a Catholic schoolgirl herself, she wanted to be a teacher. Born to an Irish-Catholic family in the Bronx, she credited her instructors at St. Nicholas of Tolintine with instilling in her a love of learning and a desire to help others with her faith.
In 1972, five years after graduating with a degree in administration and supervision from Fordham University, Danca and her husband, Joseph, settled in Long Beach with their two children.
Danca began teaching at Long Beach Catholic when her children were enrolled there.
"To be able to share your knowledge and faith with the children and to be able to make an impact on their lives is an overwhelming thought, but also the most euphoric," she said.
Fifteen years ago, she became an assistant principal. A year later, she was named head principal. The school has about 500 students, from pre-K to eighth grade.
As an administrator, Danca forged a reputation as kindhearted and innovative. She embraced new teaching methods and spearheaded fundraisers that renovated the school's computer lab and supplied classrooms with Smart Boards and iPads.
Many parents and co-workers lauded Danca for her response to superstorm Sandy.
Danca remembers looking out from the school steps shortly before the storm hit last October. She said she knew then that everything would be fine.
Though St. Ignatius Martyr Church next door had severe flooding, there "wasn't a drop" of water in Long Beach Catholic, Danca said.
"When the hurricane happened, this school was the only safe haven, and that was because Mrs. Danca opened her doors to give these kids some normalcy," said Jenni Weston of Long Beach, Danca's niece and the mother of two children at Long Beach Catholic.
Danca will be replaced by Kerry Kahn, who joined the school last year as assistant principal.
After the last day of school Friday, after the hugs and the final goodbyes, Danca sat inside her office and wiped away a tear as she talked about the future.
For Danca and her husband, it's time for more alone time. They plan to spend the next few months traveling -- through September, because she fears being too sad when school starts again.
"This past two or three weeks have been a roller-coaster ride for me emotionally," Danca said. "The most wonderful feelings of love and gratitude coming from others, and also a sense of loss for me. But it's easy to get back to normal when I think of how blessed I've been."