by the CNN Wire Staff
Joplin, Missouri (CNN) - Calling the students an inspiration "to me (and) the world," President Barack Obama urged Joplin High School graduates Monday to heed the lessons they've learned and spirit they've shown to rebuild not only their tornado-ravaged Missouri city, but also their nation.
"America only succeeds when we all pitch in and pull together - and I'm counting on you to be leaders in that effort," said Obama. "Because you are from Joplin. And you've already defied the odds."
Minutes after 450 seniors from the same Missouri school got their diplomas last May 22, a monster twister tore through the community. More than 161 people were killed - the worst death toll for such a tornado since modern record-keeping began in 1950 - while dozens of buildings were torn to shreds by winds as strong as 200 mph.
One of them was Joplin High School itself, with the damage so severe that students ended up attending classes in a vacant section of the city's Northpark Mall.
Joplin 'on the mend' one year laterFULL STORY