"The job of a commencement speaker - aside from keeping it short and sweet - 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," said Obama.
It was shortly after the same graduation ceremony last year that an EF 5 strength tornado tore through Joplin, taking 161 lives and destroying nearly 10,000 homes and buildings.
Surveillance cameras captured Joplin High School getting ripped apart. One year later, the school is still a pile of rubble, while students study at a converted department store nearby.
"There's still a lot of rebuilding left to be done. If you drive through the neighborhoods, you see just empty lots," said Chad Angell of Americorp St. Louis.
"We've watched in horror, so many other people. Watched them suffer the pain, going to funerals. I had to stop reading the paper," said Joplin resident Jeannie George.
Everyone in Joplin lost someone or something in the tornado but they have also gained a new appreciation for the important things in life.