Just minutes after graduation on May 22, 2011, a deadly EF-5 tornado destroyed Joplin High School. It's a day the 2011 graduates will never forget.
Monday night, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the tornado, President Barack Obama will speak at the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2012. About 400 students will receive their diplomas. Last May's twister killed 153 people, including two Joplin High students. Graduates of the Class of 2011 say the memory of that devastating day is still vivid.
"It was pretty shocking," said 2011 graduate Vivian Moreno. "I mean, up until 10 minutes ago, everything was fine. Normal. Then all of a sudden houses were gone. There was debris everywhere. There was a lot of people hurt."
The 2011 graduates say experiencing something so traumatic forced them to grow up quickly, but it also taught them to appreciate the small things in life.
"It kind of tells me you can't take anything for granted, you know," said 2011 graduate Aaron Frost. "You can grow up somewhere then all of a sudden it could change. You have to be grateful for what you have, and cherish the memories you had."
Students from the Class of 2011 have written letters for a time capsule. It will be buried during a Walk of Unity on May 22, and opened in 50 years.
Joplin High School students are being educated in two different locations until a new school is built. Freshmen and sophomores attend class in the original high school, while upperclassmen hold classes in the vacant end of a mall. It was a space set up in only 55 days. Staff and students say it's not ideal; the classrooms can get noisy and the athletic facilities are not on sight. Many students say they miss the old school.
With the help of a $62 million bond issue, a new school will be built. Administrators say it will be bigger, safer and stronger. Joplin will break ground on four new schools on May 22, the one-year anniversary of the tornado.