South Meck graduation

The South Mecklenburg High School Class of 2021 files into the Bojangles' Coliseum for the June 3 commencement ceremony. 


CHARLOTTE — It’s not easy to write a graduation speech — just ask South Mecklenburg High School grad Chloe Hess. The salutatorian turned to music for inspiration while writing her address to the Class of 2021. But as soon as “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus came on, she said the words just fell into place.

Hess told her classmates during the June 3 commencement that she’s tired of hearing the phrase “the new normal,” which is often used to describe the inconvenient changes made to their daily lives during the pandemic.

“I believe the true new normal for the Class of 2021 goes beyond the nuisance of online learning, social distancing or wearing a mask,” Hess said. “Our true normal was created when we had no choice but to climb and overcome. Our approach to learning and life has been altered forever. We are persistent. We are adaptable. We persevere in times of change.”

But just as Cyrus sings in her song, “There’s always gonna be another mountain.”

Hess said the Class of 2021’s “mountain” was the pandemic that interfered with their original high school plan, yet they shared the common goal of graduation, which is why “we’re always gonna want to make it move.”

“Our experience at South Meck has taught us it’s not about how fast we get there or what’s waiting on the other side. It’s about the grit and determination needed to continue moving upward,” she said, adding they also learned the importance of the climb and how life is more about the journey than the destination.

“However, a difficult climb does make for a great view and that view today is our graduation,” Hess said. “Today, we’re at the top of our climb but tomorrow starts the journey of our next one.”

Principal Glenn Starnes commended the graduates for earning nearly $10 million in college scholarships and making it to graduation. He said this school year coincided with one of the most momentous years in modern history, from the pandemic to a reckoning of racial justice to a polarizing presidential election.

During this time, Starnes said some students found a new purpose or pivoted their college plans. Others felt grief, anxiety, outrage and fear.

“Even though each of you experienced something very unique, there is one triumph that you all share: you kept moving forward,” Starnes said.

“When challenging circumstances arise in your life, you will be able to draw on this year and say, ‘I can do this.’ ‘I’ve got this.’ ‘I’ve done something extraordinary before,’” he added.

Due to class size, South Mecklenburg High School's 2021 commencement was split into two ceremonies. Click on the videos below to watch:


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