President Barack Obama returned to Joplin, Mo., Monday evening, one year after it was ravaged by a deadly tornado, emphasizing the importance of community in the face of adversity at the city's high school commencement while keeping consistent with campaign themes.
We need God, we need each other, we are important to each other and we are stronger together than we are on our own, Obama told the graduating students of Joplin High School at Missouri State University. It is this spirit that's allowing all of you to rebuild this city.
The bittersweet speech also touched on how the community building of Joplin served as an example for the rest of the country.
It's the same spirit we need right now to help rebuild America. And you, class of 2012, will help lead this effort, Obama continued. You're the ones who will help build an economy where every child can count on a good education; where everyone who is willing to put in the effort can find a job that supports a family... America will only succeed if we all pitch in and pull together -- and I'm counting on you to be leaders in that effort, because you're from Joplin ... and you're from America. And no matter how tough times get, you will be tougher.
The tornado that ripped through Joplin exactly a year ago claimed the lives of 161 people (7 of which were Joplin High School Students), destroyed hundreds of businesses and completely devastated the town. The school was relocated to a mall where the food court doubled as a cafeteria. Damages in the city were estimated to cost up to $3 billion, CNN reported last year, and the city still has a long way to go in recovery.
In what was likely a subtle nod to his campaign message, the president commended businesses who stayed in Joplin when leaving could have been more profitable.
As you begin the next stage in your journey, you will encounter greed and selfishness, ignorance and cruelty. You will meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down; who believe looking after others is only for suckers, Obama said.
But you're from Joplin, he continued. You will see how many other people see life differently ... you'll remember that in a town of 50,000 people, nearly 50,000 more came in to help in the weeks after the tornado.
Obama encouraged students to remember the strength of their community when going forward in life, help both big and small. Through anecdotes -- from a man who traveled from Japan to the U.S. to help with the recovery effort, to a part-time McDonald's worker who was touched by the kindness of her neighbors -- Obama painted a poignant picture of a city that overcame difficult times.
You'll remember the half-million-dollar donation from Angelina Jolie and some upcoming actor named Brad Pitt, Obama said, but you'll also remember the [over $600] raised by a boy who held his own car wash.
Obama also remembered students who had lost their lives in the tornado and congratulated a student named Quinton Anderson on winning an academic scholarship -- he had lost both of his parents and was critically injured in the tornado.