Obama addressed the 431
The president focused a portion of
his speech on Quinton Anderson, a
"Quinton's journey has been
After five weeks of treatment,
"Quinton has said that his motto in life is 'Always take that extra step,'" Obama said. "Today, after a long and improbable journey for Quinton, for Joplin, and for the entire class of 2012, that extra step is about to take you towards whatever future you hope for; toward whatever dreams you hold in your hearts."
The storm killed 161 in total, including six students -- two from the high school -- and one faculty member.
The May 22 storm took place just minutes after students finished the 2011 commencement ceremony, catching many residents on their way home from graduation.
Ten schools were damaged in the tornado, forcing administrators to scramble over the summer to find buildings.
For high school juniors and seniors, the school district settled on an abandoned shopping mall store. Spaces that once held sales racks of clothing were renovated into what architects called a "21st century" school design. Gone were the lockers and stuffy halls of their former school, and in were laptops and moveable walls.
Monday night's graduation ceremony was personal, with students reflecting with humor and perspective on their tumultuous school days and one administrator leading them in a chant to show their "Eagle pride."
"No matter where you are or what you do, your
Obama alluded to students' unique struggles during his own commencement address, which was held on the campus of Missouri Southern State University. He referred, too, to broader challenges facing they their townsfolk to work together, dream big and remain positive in adopting a new slogan of "Remember. Rejoice. And rebuild."
"We can define our own lives not by what happens to us,
but by how we respond," said the president, who returned to
"We can choose to carry on, we can choose to make a difference in the world. And in doing so, we can make true what's written in scripture: that 'tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance (produces) character, and character, hope.'"
Obama traveled to
The tornado did heavy damage to
Students say they're honored to have the president come all the way to
"I feel really special that the
not only that
Joplin Schools Communications Officer Kelli Price says graduation had been scheduled for
Sunday, May 20, but was moved to the 21st to accommodate the President's
schedule, which had a conflict with the G-8 Summit.
"I'm just very thankful that he's taken the time to come to address us," says student Brad White. "When he came here last time, he said that he was going to come back and he's making his promise, so it's pretty awesome."
"This will be something they remember for a long time, so I'm very excited they get this opportunity," says teacher Lacey Santillan.
But they've gotten some help. The White House released a
statement Monday noting the federal government has approved $21 million for
And the city of
It was during his remarks about community and unity that
Obama shifted from discussing
"We need God. We need each other. We are important to
each other. And we're stronger together than we are on our own," he said.
"That's the spirit that's allowing all of you to rebuild this city. It's
the same spirit we need right now to help rebuild
The Joplin High graduates are particularly qualified to do so, according to Obama. They have walked the walk -- by pitching in to assist their neighbors, pursuing their education despite the chaos around them and learning from other city citizens and total strangers about what people can do, against the odds, when they work together.
"Some of life's strongest bonds are the ones we forge
when everything around us seems broken," the president said. "And
even though I expect some of you will ultimately end up leaving
KOLR10 will broadcast a live, one-hour Joplin Remembered special Tuesday from 6-7 p.m. It will be rebroadcast on KOZL-27 on Tuesday from 8-9 p.m.