WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama took part Monday night in the high school graduation ceremony in Joplin, the Missouri city slowly recovering after being struck by a devastating tornado a year ago.
Obama sat on stage as students and faculty remembered the aftermath following last May's deadly tornado.
"It's been really difficult," said Joplin graduating senior Tori Mitchell. "I think today and tomorrow are going to be a relief to the community. We made it through the year, we've come so far."
The president then delivered remarks of his own.
"You won't be defined by the difficulties you face, but how you respond with grace and strength and a commitment to others," he said.
Pres. Obama last visited Joplin just days after the May 22 tornado. More than 160 people were killed, including seven students and one staff member at the high school, making it the worst tornado to strike the United States in decades.
Speaking at a memorial service in Joplin last year, Obama pledged to residents that "your country will be there with you every single step of the way."
The killer tornado struck the city of 50,000 less than an hour after the local high school wrapped up its 2011 graduation ceremonies. Will Norton, one of the students receiving a diploma that day, was killed in the storm.
With much of Joplin High School leveled by the tornado, this year's seniors have been attending classes at a nearby mall. Other schools in the area have moved to temporary locations in abandoned warehouses and industrial buildings.
Despite the immense challenges, school officials pride themselves on having started the school year on schedule. While they expected a steep decline in enrollment, officials say about 95 percent of students returned to attend classes in Joplin this year.
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