In a soaring speech to graduating seniors from the tornado-ravaged town of Joplin, Mo., President Barack Obama spoke in glowing terms of the "bigness of spirit" that was on display in the aftermath of last year's storm and called the students examples for the rest of the country.
Unlike some of the president's recent public remarks, particularly his May 14 commencement speech at Barnard College, his address in Joplin on Monday evening mostly stayed away from overtly political references (though he did ad lib a jab at the gridlock in Congress). He did not refer to the campaign or to his presumptive Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. Still, the themes of Monday's speech were familiar for Obama. From the promise of unity and the power of community to the triumph of hope over "greed and selfishness; ignorance and cruelty," Monday's speech tapped into the rich vein of forward-looking, optimistic rhetoric that defined Obama's 2008 campaign.
Obama began by speaking of the "power of community" that helped the town recover from the devastation of the tornado, which killed 161 people.
"It's the same spirit we need right now to help rebuild America," he continued. "And you, class of 2012, you're going to help lead this effort. You're the ones who will help build an economy where every child can count on a good education; you're the ones who are going to make sure everyone who is willing to put in the effort can find a job that supports a family; you're the ones who will make sure we're a country that can control our own energy future and we lead the world in science and technology and innovation."
He applauded the town's response to the tragedy and the world's response to the town's need, noting how people not just from the community but from as far away as Japan came together to help Joplin rebuild. He told students to grow from the experience and pay forward the kindness that was shown to them.
"No matter how tough times get, you'll always be tougher," Obama said. "No matter what life throws at you, you will be ready. You will not be defined by the difficulties you face, but by how you respond — with grace, and strength, and a commitment to others."
Obama also visited Joplin last year to view the damage and participate in a memorial service for victims of the storm.
Phoebe Connelly contributed reporting.
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