A year after a devastating tornado claimed 161 lives and leveled large portions of Joplin, people from southwest Missouri and the nation are remembering, counting their blessings and celebrating the spirit of rebirth modeled by Joplin.
President Barack Obama, keeping his promise to return to Joplin a year after the tornado, offered remarks at Joplin High School commencement ceremonies on Monday night. His words were inspirational and hit just the right note. The president talked very little about the actual tornado, instead choosing to focus on the "real story" of what happened in Joplin during the days, weeks and months that followed the disaster.
"We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond," the President stated. "We can choose to carry on. We can choose to make a difference in the world. And in doing so, we can make true what's written in Scripture -- that 'tribulation produced perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.' Of all that's come from this tragedy, let this be the central lesson that guides us."
This theme of resilience and renewal was repeated throughout the President's speech. We appreciated Obama's presence in Joplin this week, and no matter what your political affiliation, it should always be considered a great honor when a sitting president travels to southwest Missouri. President Obama's visit brought even more national attention to Joplin's extraordinary rebuilding effort.
Some of my favorite images from this week's anniversary coverage are the photos taken of Joplin graduates standing next to the sign outside their old high school that was hit hard by the tornado. Only the letters "O" and "P" remained on the sign, and some positive-thinking students created an "H" and an "E" out of silver duct tape so that the sign read HOPE High School. These photographs offered visual proof of Joplin's spirit.
There are lessons to be learned from the Joplin tornado. First and foremost, citizens must take the iniative to prepare themselves for an emergency. I would urge every single household to invest in a NOAA weather radio and to have a shelter location chosen in advance.
It's also reassuring that the City of Monett and the Monett R-1 School District have been working and continue to work on getting FEMA-approved shelters constructed to serve local residents. Should Monett be hit by tornado, these efforts will pay off in lives saved.
Ultimately, it is the response to disaster that defines a community. Joplin didn't wait for government agencies to fix its problems. Instead the city and its citizens were able to utilize the resources that were made available through state and federal programs and combine those with welcome assistance from volunteers from across the nation and grassroots rebuilding efforts. It was a team approach, and at its very core, Joplin's response revealed the power of neighbor helping neighbor. The city is healing and is on the road to a brighter, better future.
President Obama ended his remarks by quoting a poem by Langston Hughes, and in closing this editorial, I leave you with those words.
We have tomorrow
Bright before us
Like a flame.
A night-gone thing.
A sun-down name.
And dawn today. Broad arc above the road we came.