Cloudy skies gave way to sunshine just as the 2021 Lake Norman High School graduates filed into the stadium to the strains of music played by the the LNHS Wind Ensemble, ready to be honored for their accomplishments and perseverance after a unique and challenging senior year.

After the chorus performed the Lake Norman Alma Mater, Interim Principal Terry Jonas introduced “Lake Norman’s newest celebrity, Mr. Sam ‘The Man’ Jordan,” to the cheers of the delighted crowd.

Sam, who has Down syndrome, served as the football team’s manager since his freshman year. He gained stardom after suiting up and scoring a touchdown on Senior Night this year, later giving interviews on the Today Show, local television stations, and in People magazine.

“I’m going to miss every single one of you,” said Sam. “Once you become a Wildcat, always a Wildcat. Thank you for making my high school days the most beautiful four years of my life.”

“We are family. We will always have the Wildcat spirit and pride in our hearts because we are the Wildcat Nation!” he concluded, eliciting loud cheers and applause from the crowd.

Honor Speaker Sara Tuttle said some of her classmates thrived while others just tried to survive during the pandemic, but “I am proud of each and every one of you. Graduating high school is something to be proud of.”

“Each of our stories is unique, a story that carved you into individual you are today,” Tuttle added. “What you achieved will not go unnoticed.”

Honor Speaker Abigail White thanked parents, faculty, friends and family for the support they have given the graduates as they move on to make the decisions that will define their destinies.

“As we look to the future, we can choose who we want to be,” she said. “One of the greatest attributes that we can take with us on our individual journeys is courage.”

White detailed the courage of freshman year and seeking to find their places in classes, sports, and clubs, of sophomore year with harder classes and learning to navigate the school parking lot maze, of junior year with ACTS and SATS, college visits, and going virtual during a worldwide pandemic.

“Courage is our senior year, taking the difficulties that this year and the last have presented and using our ingenuity and creativity to make the best of it,” she said.

White said the late nights, bombed tests and stresses will not be the memories that they keep. “We are going to remember the moments of joy, courage, and spontaneity, moments that we’ve spent time with our friends and jumped in the lake at midnight, moments when we served our community . . . moments when we tried new things . . .  and moments when we overcame our fears and anxieties.”

She advised classmates to take risks and make mistakes to have the best lives possible.

“If we choose to stand up and face those fears and difficulties head on with the same determination and fearlessness that many of us have demonstrated throughout our high school careers, I hope that we will learn from those challenges, grow, and become successful individuals.”

The LNHS senior choral members next performed a spirited rendition of Ben Rector’s “Brand New,” complete with choreographed dance moves to delight the graduates and attendees.

Jonas then conferred diplomas on the senior candidates, with the assistance of Iredell-Statesville Schools Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Dr. Billie Berry, School Board Vice Chair Todd Carver, and LNHS assistant principals.

Keith Gentle, who retired as LNHS principal in February, also greeted seniors as they crossed the stage.

After the tassels were turned and caps thrown, throngs of family members and well-wishers joined graduates on the football field for pictures, hugs, and words of congratulation.