By Emily Younker
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Samantha Mahurin believes students in the Joplin High School class of 2013 are unique in that they have survived — together — what she calls the “roller coaster” of their high school career.
“There’s no hatred in our class because we all know what we’ve been through,” she said. “That’s not common for high school.”
Marking a return to normalcy after the May 2011 tornado, a total of 481 seniors graduated Sunday from Joplin High School in a commencement ceremony at the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at Missouri Southern State University.
Calling it the “most persistent class in the recorded history of our school,” Principal Kerry Sachetta said the class will likely set a record for the district’s graduation rate. At the end of the summer session, the class is expected to exceed the 81.6 percent graduation rate set by the class of 2010, he said.
The class also has been awarded about $2.1 million in college scholarships, according to Greg Boyd, the senior class principal.
During the two-hour ceremony, the class was lauded by principals and administrators for its compassion, its willingness to support one another and its ability to adjust to unusual circumstances after the tornado.
“These young men and women have been courageous and came through a lot,” Sachetta said. “They have made the best of a difficult situation beginning two years ago.”
Randy Steele, who spent the past year as president of the Board of Education, said the class’s four-year high school career was “anything but normal.” Students attended the former Joplin High School building at 20th Street and Indiana Avenue for two years before moving to the junior-senior campus at Northpark Mall for their final two years, and their education shifted from being textbook-based to being computer-based.
“But you never wavered,” Steele told the students. “You never let it show that it wasn’t normal.”
Superintendent C.J. Huff said the class has displayed a “quiet leadership,” not having been in the spotlight like the class of 2012 but having devoted just as much service and commitment to the community and fellow classmates.
Graduate Elaina Warren said the transitions over the past four years weren’t always easy. When she and her classmates first entered the campus at the mall as juniors last year, the transition to computer-based classes was something she didn’t initially like, she said.
“After you get used to it and get settled in, you kind of get used to it,” she said.
Warren, who plans to attend MSSU in the fall to major in Spanish and juvenile justice, said she thinks her class is closer than other graduating classes might be because of what it has gone through since the tornado.
“We’ve been there to support each other, a lot of us since freshman year,” she said. “It’s really nice to know that I can count on a lot of these people. We’re all friends, and we all keep in touch with each other.”
Graduate Felisha Derrick said she thinks that having the high school split between grade levels, with only the upperclassmen at the mall campus, forced her class members to depend more on one another in the two years since the tornado.
She said she doesn’t necessarily know every one of her 480 classmates, but she’s certain that any of them would be there for her if needed.
“We have a special bond,” she said.
Derrick said she will leave in July for Chicago, where she will attend boot camp for the Navy. She plans to eventually become an aviation electrician for the Navy, she said.
“I’m pumped,” she said of finally reaching graduation. “It’s not going to be easy, but I’m ready to go.”
Graduates Sam Croy, Brian Hughes and Kyle Dillon were commencement speakers.
Croy said his class will not be defined by the tornado. Instead, he and his classmates now have the chance to prove themselves through their words, their character and their actions.
“We are indeed ‘lucky ’13,’” he said.
THE JOPLIN HIGH SCHOOL CLASS OF 2013 held a moment of silence Sunday for classmates Lantz Hare, who died in the May 2011 tornado, and Cooper Vocelka, who died earlier this month of a brain tumor.