Every year, the president of the United States delivers graduation addresses at a few select colleges around the country. But this year, President George Bush also chose to honor the graduates of one very special high school, and a group of teenagers who learned the meaning of faith and survival when a killer tornado struck the tiny Midwestern town of Greensburg, Kansas, one year ago. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House.
President Bush says all Americans can learn a lesson from the graduates of Greensburg High.
At this ceremony we celebrate your year-long journey from tragedy to triumph," said President Bush.
On May 4 2007, a tornado tore through Greensburg, leveling more than 90 percent of the town and killing 11 people. In a matter of minutes, the lives of the class of 2008 were forever changed.
"Those of you, who lived through the storm, remember your ears popping from the change in air pressure," said Mr. Bush. "You remember huddling with your loved ones in basements. And when it was safe to come out, you remember the shock of seeing your entire town in ruins."
Slowly but surely, the people of Greensburg assessed their losses and began to rebuild after one of the worst tornados to touch down in the United States in decades. Portable classrooms replaced the brick high school, and many students went home after class to temporary trailers.
The president came to this small Kansas community a few days after the tornado, and let the town know he wanted to come back on graduation day. On his return visit, he handed out diplomas to each of the 18 graduates, and praised their courage and resolve.
"Often in life you are dealt a hand that you do not expect," said President Bush. "The test of a community and the test of an individual is how you play that hand."
The president said there is a certain community spirit evident in cities and towns across America that have seen terrible tragedy - from "ground zero" in New York to the hurricane-devastated neighborhoods of New Orleans to tiny Greensburg, Kansas.
"The Greensburg class of 2008 has learned that America's communities are stronger than any storm," he said. "The tornado tore apart the beams and boards that held your houses together. But it could not break the bonds of family and faith that hold your town together."
President Bush said he has seen resolve in the wake of tragedy in Greensburg, and he vowed the town will come back stronger and better than before.