Exactly one year ago today, President Obama was focused on trying to help a community heal from a massive tornado that killed dozens when he spoke at a high school commencement in Joplin, Mo.
Joplin, like Moore, Okla., Monday, was leveled by a tornado in late May of 2011.
Now, the president is once again dealing with a tragedy, at its infancy. The pictures from the tornado in Oklahoma are eerily similar to those in Joplin, and presidents in these times are expected to comfort.
“You will not travel that path alone; your country will travel it with you," Obama said Tuesday at the White House. He also noted the “enormous grief that has to be absorbed. Our prayers are with the people of Oklahoma, and we will back up those prayers with deeds for as long as it takes.”
Almost two years ago to the day, President Obama traveled to Joplin where he spoke at a memorial service for those killed. The president mentioned Joplin twice in his remarks at the White House.
“How we respond when the storm strikes is up to us. How we live in the aftermath of tragedy and heartache, that’s within our control,” he said in Joplin in 2011. “And it’s in these moments, through our actions, that we often see the glimpse of what makes life worth living in the first place. In the last week, that’s what Joplin has not just taught Missouri, not just taught America, but has taught the world.”
A year later, Obama was back in Joplin speaking at the high school commencement with a similar, but slightly different message, one expressing pride in Joplin’s resilience. To reinforce that, he used the phrase, “You’re from Joplin,” six times.
“The job of a commencement speaker primarily is to keep it short,” Obama said, before adding, “The other job is to inspire. But 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.”
He continued: “By now, I expect that most of you have probably relived those 32 minutes again and again. Where you were. What you saw. When you knew for sure that it was over. The first contact, the first phone call you had with somebody you loved, the first day that you woke up in a world that would never be the same. And yet, the story of Joplin isn’t just what happened that day. It’s the story of what happened the next day. And the day after that. And all the days and weeks and months that followed.”
And like in the aftermaths of other tragedies, the president quoted scripture.
“We can define our lives not by what happens to us, but by how we respond,” Obama said. “We can choose to carry on. We can choose to make a difference in the world. And in doing so, we can make true what’s written in Scripture -- that ‘tribulation produces perseverance, and perseverance, character, and character, hope.’ Of all that’s come from this tragedy, let this be the central lesson that guides us, let it be the lesson that sustains you through whatever challenges lie ahead.”
And that will inevitably be the challenge in Oklahoma.
"What they can be certain of is that Americans from every corner of this country will be right there with them, opening our homes, our hearts to those in need," Obama said Tuesday in his remarks at the White House. "Because we're a nation that stands with our fellow citizens as long as it takes. We've seen that spirit in Joplin, in Tuscaloosa; we saw that spirit in Boston and Breezy Point. And that’s what the people of Oklahoma are going to need from us right now."
He added, “The people of Moore should know your country will remain on the ground, there for them,” Obama said, “beside them for as long as it takes.”
Also read: A timeline of other Obama tragedy speeches.