Full Text: Obama's Joplin commencement speech
THE PRESIDENT:Â Thank you.Â (Applause.)Â Thank you, everybody.Â Please have a seat.Â A few people I want to acknowledge.Â First of all, you have an outstanding governor in Jay Nixon, and we are proud of all the work that heâ€™s done.Â Â I want to acknowledge Senator Claire McCaskill who is here.Â (Applause.)Â Representative Billy Long.Â Â (Applause.)Â Your mayor, Melodee Colbert Kean.Â (Applause.)Â Somebody who doesn't get a lot of attention but does amazing work all across the country, including here in Joplin, the head of FEMA, the administrator, Craig Fugate, who spent an awful lot of time here helping to rebuild.Â (Applause.)
Superintendent Huff.Â (Applause.)Â Principal Sachetta.Â (Applause.)Â To the faculty, the parents, the family, friends, the people of Joplin, and most of all the class of 2012.Â (Applause.)Â Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for allowing me the honor of playing a small part in this special day.Â
Â Â Â Â Now, the job of a commencement speaker primarily is to keep it short.Â Chloe, theyâ€™ve given me more than two minutes.Â (Laughter.)Â But the other job is to inspire.Â But as I look out at this class, and across this city, whatâ€™s clear is that youâ€™re the source of inspiration today.Â To me.Â To this state.Â To this country.Â And to people all over the world.Â Â
Last year, the road that led you here took a turn that no one couldâ€™ve imagined.Â Just hours after the Class of 2011 walked across this stage, the most powerful tornado in six decades tore a path of devastation through Joplin that was nearly a mile wide and 13 long.Â In just 32 minutes, it took thousands of homes, and hundreds of businesses, and 161 of your neighbors, friends and family.Â It took a classmate Will Norton, who had just left this auditorium with a diploma in his hand.Â It took Lantz Hare, who shouldâ€™ve received his diploma next year.Â
By now, I expect that most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again.Â Where you were.Â What you saw.Â When you knew for sure that it was over.Â The first contact, the first phone call you had with somebody you loved, the first day that you woke up in a world that would never be the same.Â
And yet, the story of Joplin isnâ€™t just what happened that day.Â Itâ€™s the story of what happened the next day.Â And the day after that.Â And all the days and weeks and months that followed.Â As your city manager, Mark Rohr, has said, the people here chose to define the tragedy â€śnot by what happened to us, but by how we responded.â€ťÂ
Class of 2012, that story is yours.Â Itâ€™s part of you now.Â As others have mentioned, youâ€™ve had to grow up quickly over the last year.Â Youâ€™ve learned at a younger age than most of us that we canâ€™t always predict what life has in store.Â No matter how we might try to avoid it, life surely can bring some heartache, and life involves struggle.Â And at some point life will bring loss.Â Â
But here in Joplin, youâ€™ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences.Â We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond.Â We can choose to carry on.Â We can choose to make a difference in the world.Â And in doing so, we can make true whatâ€™s written in Scripture -â€“ that â€śtribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.â€ťÂ
Of all thatâ€™s come from this tragedy, let this be the central lesson that guides us, let it be the lesson that sustains you through whatever challenges lie ahead.Â Â Â
As you begin the next stage in your journey, wherever youâ€™re going, whatever youâ€™re doing, itâ€™s safe to say you will encounter greed and selfishness, and ignorance and cruelty, sometimes just bad luck.Â Youâ€™ll meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down.Â Youâ€™ll meet people who believe that looking after others is only for suckers.Â
But youâ€™re from Joplin.Â 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.Â
Youâ€™ll remember that in a town of 50,000 people, nearly 50,000 more came in to help the weeks after the tornado -â€“ perfect strangers whoâ€™ve never met you and didn't ask for anything in return.
One of them was Mark Carr, who drove 600 miles from Rocky Ford, Colorado with a couple of chainsaws and his three little children.Â One man traveled all the way from Japan, because he remembered that Americans were there for his country after last yearâ€™s tsunami, and he wanted the chance, he said, â€śto pay it forward.â€ťÂ There were AmeriCorps volunteers who have chosen to leave their homes and stay here in Joplin till the work is done.Â
And then there was the day that Mizzouâ€™s football team rolled into town with an 18-wheeler full of donated supplies.Â And of all places, they were assigned to help out on Kansas Avenue.Â (Laughter and applause.)Â I don't know who set that up.Â (Laughter.)Â And while they hauled away washing machines and refrigerators from the debris, they met a woman named Carol Mann, who had just lost the house she lived in for 18 years.Â And Carol didn't have a lot.Â She works part-time at McDonaldâ€™s.Â She struggles with seizures, and she told the players that she had even lost the change purse that held her lunch money.Â So one of them, one of the players, went back to the house, dug through the rubble, and returned with the purse with $5 inside.Â
As Carolâ€™s sister said, â€śSo much of the news that you hear is so negative.Â But these boys renewed my faith that there are so many good people in the world.â€ťÂ
Thatâ€™s what youâ€™ll remember.Â Because youâ€™re from Joplin.Â
You will remember the half million dollar donation that came from Angelina Jolie and some up-and-coming actor named Brad Pitt.Â (Laughter.)Â But youâ€™ll also remember the $360 that was delivered by a nine-year-old boy who organized his own car wash.Â Youâ€™ll remember the school supplies donated by your neighboring towns, but maybe youâ€™ll also remember the brand new laptops that were sent from the United Arab Emirates -â€“ a tiny country on the other side of the world.
When it came time for your prom, make-up artist Melissa Blayton organized an effort that collected over a 1,000 donated prom dresses, FedEx kicked in for the corsages, and Joplinâ€™s own Liz Easton, who had lost her home and her bakery in the tornado, made a hundred -- or 1,500 cupcakes for the occasion.Â They were good cupcakes.Â (Laughter.)
There are so many good people in the world.Â There is such a decency, a bigness of spirit, in this country of ours.Â And so, Class of 2012, youâ€™ve got to remember that.Â Remember what people did here.Â And like that man who came all the way from Japan to Joplin, make sure in your own life that you pay it forward.
Now, just as youâ€™ve learned the goodness of people, youâ€™ve also learned the power of community.Â And youâ€™ve heard from some of the other speakers how powerful that is.Â And as you take on the roles of co-worker and business owner -- neighbor, citizen -- youâ€™ll encounter all kinds of divisions between groups, divisions of race and religion and ideology.Â Youâ€™ll meet people who like to disagree just for the sake of being disagreeable.Â (Laughter.)Â Youâ€™ll meet people who prefer to play up their differences instead of focusing on what they have in common, where they can cooperate.
But youâ€™re from Joplin.Â So you will always know that itâ€™s always possible for a community to come together when it matters most.Â After all, a lot of you couldâ€™ve spent your senior year scattered throughout different schools, far from home.Â But Dr. Huff asked everybody to pitch in so that school started on time, right here in Joplin.Â He understood the power of this community, and he understood the power of place.
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