Obama to deliver Joplin High School commencement address

Monday, March 5, 2012 | 8:26 a.m. CST; updated 9:24 a.m. CST, Monday, March 5, 2012

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama will speak at the high school graduation ceremony in Joplin as the city slowly recovers from the devastating tornado a year ago.

Obama will deliver remarks at the May 20 commencement, according to a White House official, who requested anonymity in order to speak ahead of the formal announcement.

The president last visited Joplin in May 2011, just days after the massive tornado hit. More than 160 people were killed, including seven students and one staff member at the high school. It was 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 said about 95 percent of students returned to attend classes in Joplin this year.

News of Obama's return to Joplin comes as other towns across the Midwest and South are struggling with the aftermath of deadly tornadoes. At least 39 people across five states were killed in storms that struck Friday. Another round of storms last week killed 13 people.

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