Last night I and my family were honored to hear President Obama speak to the graduating seniors, including my son, at the Joplin High School commencement. The president came to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the tornado that ripped through the town shortly after last year’s commencement, destroying thousands of buildings and killing 161.
In March I blogged about Toshiya Muto, the man from Japan who came to Joplin to help in the cleanup efforts, and about the $500,000 gift to Joplin Schools from the United Arab Emirates. Last night, President Obama mentioned both, telling the students, “You’ll always remember that in a town of 50,000 people, nearly 50,000 more came to help in the weeks after the tornado—perfect strangers who’ve never met you, and would never ask for anything in return.” This included Muto, who “traveled all the way from Japan, because he remembered that Americans were there for his country after last year’s tsunami, and he wanted the chance to pay it forward.” And later he added, “You’ll remember the school supplies donated by your neighboring towns, but also the brand new laptops that were sent from the United Arab Emirates—a small country on the other side of the world.”
Though he didn’t make it part of his speech, President Obama could have also mentioned another gift from the UAE, a newly announced $5 million donation to Mercy Health Systems. The money will pay for a wing in the new hospital that will replace St. John’s Regional Medical Center, which was destroyed in the storm.
The president gave several more examples of generosity shown to the people of Joplin over the past year, and then he came back again to the story of the man who came from thousands of miles away: “There are so many good people in the world. There is such a decency, a bigness of spirit, in this country of ours. Remember that. Remember what people did here. And like the man from Japan who came to Joplin, make sure to pay it forward in your own life.”
(Photo: President Obama looks over the commencement program before speaking to Joplin High seniors)