Just one year ago today, the nation gasped as a tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 residents and injuring 900; destroyed 8,000 homes and businesses; and caused more than $2.8 billion in damage. President Obama on Monday delivered a commencement address at Joplin’s only high school, and praised the students and their town for their resilience and perseverance.
“As I look out at this class, and across this city, what’s clear is that you’re the source of inspiration today — to me, to this state, to this country, and to people all over the world,” Obama said. “By now, most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again. Where you were. What you saw. When you knew for sure that it was over.”
The president said the most important thing to remember about the devastating event is the kindness of 50,000 strangers from around the nation and the world who lent a helping hand, including AmeriCorps volunteers. He included the United Arab Emirates, which provided new laptops for the school and donated $5 million to rebuild a hospital, and a man who traveled to Joplin from Japan to pay forward the aid Americans gave his country after the devastating tsunami last year.
“My deepest hope for all of you is that as you begin this new chapter in your life, you will bring that spirit of Joplin to every place you travel, to everything you do,” Obama told the class of 2012. “You can serve as a reminder that we’re not meant to walk this road alone; that we’re not expected to face down adversity by ourselves. We need God, we need each other.”
He also urged them to use the same spirit that helped rebuild their town to help rebuild America.
“America will only succeed if we all pitch in and pull together,” he said. “And I’m counting on you to be leaders in that effort. Because you are from Joplin, and you’ve already defied the odds."
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(Photo: SHANE KEYSER/Kansas City Star/Getty Images)