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Obama to speak to graduates of Joplin school hit by 2011 tornado

The White House announced on Monday that President Obama will speak at a high school graduation ceremony in Joplin, Missouri, still recovering from last year’s tornado that killed more than 160 people.

The announcement came as parts of the South and the Midwest continued their cleanup from the latest round of severe weather that left 39 people dead, hundreds injured and caused major damage, particularly in southern Indiana.

In its announcement, the White House said Obama would visit Joplin on May 21.

The president last visited Joplin in May 2011, days after the tornado plowed through the state and struck the city of about 50,000. More than 160 people were killed, including seven students and one staff member at the high school, making it one of the deadliest tornadoes to strike the United States in decades.

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The twister hit about an hour after the school wrapped up its 2011 graduation ceremony. Joplin high was among the thousands of buildings destroyed.

“You look out at the landscape there, and there have to be moments where you just say, ‘Where to begin? How to start?’ ” Obama said last year at the memorial service, which drew about 2,000 people.

“There are going to be moments when, after the shock has worn off, you feel alone,” he said, quickly adding that the administration would stand behind the city as it rebuilt.

“I can promise you that your country will be there with you every single step of the way. We’re not going anywhere,” Obama said.

This year’s high school seniors have been attending classes at a nearby mall. Other schools have used temporary quarters in the area.

The White House also formally announced that Obama would give commencement speeches at Barnard College in Manhattan on May 14 and at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on May 23. Obama traditionally delivers the commencement address at a different military service academy every year.

Barnard is a woman’s college affiliated with Columbia University, where Obama earned a bachelor’s degree after transferring from Occidental College in California. Obama will deliver the speech to a class of about 600 students and receive the Barnard Medal of Distinction, the college’s highest honor.

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