President Obama to Joplin Seniors: “Pay It Forward”

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)


Joplin, Missouri, USA, World

It’s been ten months since an EF5 tornado hit Joplin, MO, where we live. (We moved back here in June.) The city is still recovering, but even though there’s still a long way to go, a lot of progress has been made, in large part because of the thousands of volunteers who have given time to help. It’s spring break now, and workers are coming in from all over the country. Since May 22, help has come from outside the US, as well: For instance, after the Joplin school district announced its plans to provide Joplin high schoolers with MacBooks, the United Arab Emirates decided to donate $500,000 to help pay for them—with an additional pledge of another half-million dollars in the form of matching funds for the laptop program.

(Kelsey Ryan, “United Arab Emirates Donates $500,000 for High School Laptops,” The Joplin Globe, August 9, 2011)

And then there’s Toshiya Muto, who came to Joplin from Japan, to help in the cleanup. Muto wanted to pay back the US for what Americans did for his country after the tsunami. While in Joplin, Muto rode his bike 10 miles round trip everyday from his hotel to the disaster zone. “Of course it has an impact on my life,” said Muto, “but though my strength may be soft, slightly weak, if it has some impact, if someone needs me to exert myself, I’d like to do my best to help.”

 (Ethan Forhetz, “Joplin Tornado Victims Get Help from Japan,” WCTV, June 28, 2011)

[photo by BabyBare11, used under a Creative Commons license]