There were many stories of hope and triumph Monday at the Joplin High School graduation, and the fact that President Barack Obama chose to share in the occasion, held at Missouri Southern State University, was only part of what made it so special.

There were many stories of hope and triumph Monday at the Joplin High School graduation, and the fact that President Barack Obama chose to share in the occasion, held at Missouri Southern State University, was only part of what made it so special.


“I’m just so proud of my son, Brett, who is graduating tonight,” said Michelle Stearnes. “I had him when I was 20, and for a long time it was just me and him. This means a lot to me.”


But she said that she was also excited about the president being there.


“I think it’s a great honor and not many can say that the president was at their high school graduation,” Stearnes said. “This is one they won’t forget.”


Michelle Killman was celebrating the graduation of her niece Candice Kell but has much more to be grateful for.


“My father lost his house in the tornado, and we had been there all day and just left,” she said. “My husband had just recently had a stem cell transplant then and was recuperating. If he had been at my father’s house when the tornado hit, he would be deceased.”


Instead, her husband is now at Pittsburg State University and doing well.


“I do think it’s really neat that President Obama is here,” Killman added. “I’m not his greatest fan, but he is the president of the United States.”


Nichole Campbell, Joplin, celebrating her sister’s graduation, noted that her family had lost their house in the tornado. She added that they were grateful for all the help they had received.


She was also glad to see Obama.


“I think it’s cool he’s here,” Campbell said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”


Obama had visited Joplin a week after the city was devastated by the tornado on May 22, 2011, but Campbell didn’t see him then.


“I had softball,” she explained.


Meri Stewart, whose son was graduating, was very pleased to have the president attend the event.


“I think it’s awesome for him to take time from his schedule to come and encourage the students, because a lot of them are still struggling with issues,” she said. “This is something they can hang onto for a lifetime.”


However, Jane Karns was not so impressed by the dignitaries attending the graduation. She felt that the emphasis belonged on the students who had attended classes at Northpark Mall and other sites and completed their senior year though many were coping with the loss of homes or loved ones.


“This is about the graduates,” Karns said. “It’s not about politics.”


The Morning Sun