Made In CMS

Brandon Neal

Independence High, Class of 2001

My name is Brandon Neal and I am proud to be a graduate of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. CMS and the International Baccalaureate program more than prepared me for every subsequent phase of life I have encountered so far. I am so grateful for the school system and all the wonderful and dedicated teachers that work tirelessly in our schools.

I had many great teachers, but there was one in particular who really propelled me into the person I am today. Her name was Leslie Southerland, and she was my 12th grade IB English teacher at Independence High School. Ms. Southerland always had a reputation for being hard and very serious. And I often found she was usually the hardest on me. And I really didn’t understand why until one day she asked to speak with me after class toward the end of our senior year. She told me that she was harder on me than the other students in the class because she saw so much potential and knew that I could do great things if I pushed myself. I was taken aback at first because I was in IB after all and was making good grades, but beneath my defensive facade, I knew she was telling the truth. I could do better. I could be better.  And truth be told, even with my great GPA, I never fully and completely pushed myself as I should have.

We became much closer after that and toward the end of the year, she wrote a message in my yearbook that has remained with me to this very day. She wrote, “ You have such great potential, Brandon. I can only imagine what you’ll do when you finally push yourself to reach it.” Those few words have motivated me through college and business school at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, through law school at Duke University, to beginning my career on Wall Street and returning home to work in corporate America in Charlotte.

I continue to push to reach my full potential in large part because of Ms. Southerland’s words and belief in me so long ago. She’s the best teacher I have ever had not because she made me better in any particular subject but because she made me a better person long after her classes ended and that is the true impact great teachers can have and those are the teachers that we have in CMS.

- Brandon Neal