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Obama to Speak at Joplin Graduation, Year After Tragedy

Obama to Speak at Joplin Graduation, Year After Tragedy

Joplin, Missouri -- Almost a year to the day after a monster tornado killed 161 people and devastated Joplin, Missouri, President Barack Obama will deliver the commencement address at the local high school Monday night.

Miles of homes and businesses were flattened by the enormous multivortex storm, one of the worst recorded in U.S. history, last May 22. Neighborhoods and schools were literally blown away, and hundreds of people were injured.

For Obama, the trip is an election-year opportunity to reconnect with the still recovering community.

"There are heroes around us all the time," the president said last year when he spoke at a memorial service in Joplin shortly after the tornado. Noting victims who tried to help others in their final moments, the president urged Joplin residents to "live up to their example, to make each day count, to live with a sense of mutual regard, to live with that same compassion that they demonstrated."

The twister that stripped the bark from trees and reduced homes in its path to unrecognizable rubble killed more people than any other U.S. tornado since modern record-keeping began in 1950.

"The tornado was something none of us had any control over," said Lydia McAllister, one of the seniors graduating Monday, in a commentary on CNN. "It was one of those things that you can let define you or you can let it help shape you. For me, it's the latter. I'm a stronger person as a result of what I've been through in the past year."

The city is calling Tuesday's anniversary a Day of Unity, with events including a commemorative walk through the city.

Although Joplin has worked fast to rebuild, many of the hundreds of businesses destroyed by the tornado have not been able to get back to full speed. Meanwhile, hundreds of families still live in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers and are unable to rebuild their homes.

The city of Joplin estimates that almost 130,000 volunteers have logged hundreds of thousands of hours since the tornado. Such contributions of help, time and money gave McAllister the strength to keep going, she wrote in her commentary.

"I like the idea of graduating right before the one-year anniversary of the tornado. It will be the end of something one day and a chance for closure the next," McAllister wrote, adding that she expected to feel relief on the anniversary of the storm Tuesday "at the fact that even when my world seemed to end, that pain didn't last forever, to know that this, too, shall pass."

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