Obama praises Joplin graduates, town as ‘source of inspiration’

President Obama delivered the commencement address to the Joplin High School class of 2012 on Monday, telling graduates they were a "source of inspiration," one year after their Missouri town was hit by a devastating tornado.

"As I look out at this class, and across this city, what’s clear is that you’re the source of inspiration today, to me, to this state, to this country. And to people all over the world," said Obama.

On May 22, 2011, Joplin was hit by a tornado that tore through the town, killing 161 residents and causing more than $2.8 billion in damage, according to reports.

Obama visited the ravaged town last year for a somber memorial service and pledged Washington's assistance in the rebuilding effort. 

On Monday, he praised the town’s recovery over the past year.

"Last year, the road that led you here took a turn that no one could’ve imagined. 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," said Obama. 

"In just 32 minutes, it took thousands of homes, and hundreds of businesses, and 161 of your neighbors, friends and family. It took a classmate, Will Norton, who had just left this auditorium with a diploma in his hand. It took Lantz Hare, who should’ve received his diploma next year.

"Yet the story of Joplin isn’t just what happened that day," added Obama.

"Here in Joplin, you’ve also learned that we have the power to grow from these experiences. We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond. We can choose to carry on," the president said.

"You’ll remember that in a town of 50,000 people, nearly 50,000 more came in to help the weeks after the tornado — perfect strangers who’ve never met you and didn't ask for anything in return," Obama said.

Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill (D), Rep. Billy Long (R) and Gov. Jay Nixon (D) attended the president's graduation address.

Last Monday, the president delivered the commencement address at Barnard College in New York City, and on Wednesday he will deliver the graduation address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.