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Oklahoma tornadoes: Graduation ceremonies will offer relief for some Moore residents

“We're not doing anything with the house,” Jake Spradling said. “We're spending it all together and having fun.”
by Jenni Carlson Published: May 24, 2013

Jake Spradling has his graduation gown, but he won't be wearing it Saturday when he and the rest of the Southmoore High seniors receive their diplomas.

That's because, as the offensive lineman says, it's totally trashed.

Covered in bits of fiberglass and insulation, the gown was one of the things found in what remains of his house after Monday's tornado. But just because his gown isn't usable and his cap is who knows where won't keep him from graduating.

“It's going to be kind of a relief,” Spradling said of graduation day. “We're not doing anything with the house. We're spending it all together and having fun.”

Just as it should be.

During a time when nothing has been normal in Moore, the city's three high schools will graduate as planned Saturday at the Cox Convention Center. Westmoore at 9:30 a.m. Southmoore at 2 p.m. Moore at 6 p.m.

But even as the community gathers for these annual rites of passage, they will be anything but routine. This is the first time that the people of Moore have gathered formally since the storm. It comes before the public memorial and prayer service. It comes before the President Obama visit.

It's fitting really that the graduations are the first community gatherings.

The heart of this city is the schools and the kids who learn and grow and play and ultimately graduate there.

“It's going to be good to get everybody together,” Westmoore senior class president Allisen Destain said. “It's a good feeling.”

Destain has been a four-sport athlete for the Jaguars, running cross country and track, swimming and playing soccer. She is headed to Oklahoma State and is thinking about walking on to the track team. Or she might join the club rowing team. She isn't sure.

But Destain admits that it's been difficult to think about the future even as she prepares to graduate.

Her house wasn't in the path of the tornado, but she volunteered somewhere every day since the storm. The Orr Family Farm. The Plaza Towers neighborhood. The Oakcrest Church of Christ.

Reminders of the storm are everywhere.

As senior class president, Destain will deliver a speech during graduation. She started working on it weeks ago and had been spending the days before the storm perfecting it. But after the tornado, she wondered if she should change it. Should she start with a moment of silence? Should there be a mention of the victims?

Administrators told her to stick to her original script.

“We want it to be about graduation,” they said, “not about the storm.”

But, of course, everyone will be thinking about the storm regardless of what is said.

“It has definitely made a memorable senior year,” Moore senior Hannah Lynch said. “There's no way on Earth you could forget what happened this year.”

Lynch will remember the run that she and her softball teammates made to the Class 6A state championship game. She will remember signing a letter of intent to play at Hendrix College in Arkansas. But she will also remember the monster funnel that missed her house by only a block.

The house sustained some damage and has only had power from a generator supplied by her dad's co-workers since the storm. Because of the limited electricity, her mom's co-workers are providing the family a hotel room Saturday at the Skirvin Hotel. It will give them a place to prepare for graduation, which is right down the street at the Cox Center.

Lynch is looking forward to the ceremony — and not just because she'll be receiving a diploma.

“I'm definitely looking forward to seeing classmates,” Lynch said. “You don't know who all is OK and who isn't.

“You want to make sure you can be there for them.”

Spradling's Southmoore classmates have been there for him. When he went to the school Thursday to retrieve things he'd left there when the storm hit Monday, he was showered with offers of help. Food. Clothes.

“I had three brand new pairs of shoes handed to me,” he said. “Very overwhelming. Very humbling.”

And the help has gone beyond the walls of his school. When he went to Oakcrest Church of Christ where they were distributing clothes, he got help from some guys from Westmoore who he'd played against.

With three high schools in town, there are some heated rivalries.

But not this week.

Everyone is on the same team.

Earlier this week, when Jake Spradling found that graduation gown in the rubble of his house — he will wear a replacement donated by Stanley's Graduation Services for Saturday's ceremony — he unearthed some other treasure, too. His letter jacket. His football helmet. His football jersey from his last high school game.

Now, the family has started to remove debris.

“We were moving walls yesterday,” said Spradling, who will play football at Northwestern Oklahoma State. “All of us are big offensive line guys, so we've had a lot of manpower come in.

“We're trying to move forward.”

A wounded city takes another step in the healing Saturday when it comes together for graduation, when it commemorates what its children have accomplished, when it celebrates as one.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at (405) 475-4125. Like her at, follow her at or view her personality page at

by Jenni Carlson
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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