Posted: May 21, 2012 11:35 PM
Updated: May 22, 2012 10:45 AM
JOPLIN, Mo. - Nearly one year to the day after deadly tornadoes ripped through Joplin, the Class of 2012 graduated. The commencement speaker for the event was President Barack Obama.
"As I look out at this class and across this city, what's clear is that you're the source of inspiration today," says President Obama.
The tornadoes, which left 161 people dead, also destroyed the high school. The graduating class of 465 seniors went to school in a converted shopping center. Some students got to see the reality of graduation, while others didn't.
Johnathan Taylor has been left with several scars. "Last thing I remember is seeing the stop sign hit me, and I was out. I woke up in a man's car. I asked him what happened. He said, 'You just survived an EF-5 tornado,'" says Taylor.
But the physical pain doesn't compare to the emotional scars. Johnathan and his best friend Lantz were trying to beat the storm home. The tornado threw Jonathan almost a block. It killed Lantz.
"I still hear his voice. It feels just like yesterday. I think about him. I dream about him. Just seeing rains brings memories," says Taylor.
The guilt haunts him. It drove him to desperation. He dropped out of school in his senior year. He has a new job as a car salesman. He's determined to get his GED.
Braden Showers was one of the 465 who graduated on Monday night. It took every single ounce of willpower to get there.
"A few months ago, my life was turned upside down. I was in a hole, and I didn't think I would get out of it," says Showers.
Tornadoes destroyed his home. He and his family moved into a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The hardships put him behind in school, so he enrolled in an alternative school. He got serious about school.
"It was all because of Mrs. Leatherman. I couldn't have done it without her," says Showers.
Debbie and Steve Leatherman both teach at the alternative school. They brought Showers through with more than history and geography. They helped him get back on his feet with shoes and clothes. They helped him get to graduation day.