President Barack Obama began his commencement speech at Monday’s Joplin, Missouri high school graduation ceremony with a quick joke, followed by praise for the community’s resilience:
The first job of a commencement speaker is to keep it short, but the second job is to inspire. But 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.
He then veered into politics:
I imagine that 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. But you are from Joplin. So you will remember, you will know, just how many people there are who see life differently; those who are guided by kindness and generosity and quiet service.
He spoke of AmeriCorps volunteers “who have chosen to leave their homes and stay here until Joplin is back on its feet.” The president then used an attack he has previously employed against his political opposition:
You’ll meet people who like to disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable; who prefer to play up their differences and instead of focusing on what they have in common, or where they can cooperate.
At the end of the approximately 30-minute speech, Obama stated several of his campaign themes:
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; where we control our own energy future and we lead the world in science and technology and innovation. America will only succeed if we all pitch in and pull together — and I’m counting on you to be leaders in that effort.
Joplin High School was destroyed by the EF-5 tornado — the strongest in 60 years — that devastated Joplin last year. More than 160 people were killed, including two high school students — one who had graduated that night — and a staff member.
The school and the students have recovered admirably from the tragedy. After the school was destroyed on May 22, it appeared there was little hope for them to remain together as a class. Yet Joplin officials insisted school would open on time less than three months later, and it did. Superintendent of Schools CJ Huff told the students they were “nothing short of amazing,” as more students in the Class of 2012 enrolled in honors courses and graduated with honors than at any other time in school history. Nearly $2 million in scholarships have been awarded to them.