JOPLIN, Mo. — The people of Joplin were described as determined and resilient. They were praised for their character and their ability to establish hope in the face of one of the worst natural disasters of modern times.

That was the message from Vice President Joe Biden, who was one of the featured guests at Friday’s dedication of the new Joplin High School and Franklin Technology Center. The campus replaces the school that was destroyed in the May 22, 2011, tornado that killed 161 people in the Missouri town. 

“I’m here because you are the heart and soul of America,” he told the crowd of students, staff and community members gathered for the event. “You are the example of who we are as a people. We never bend; we never break; we never stop; and we always rebuild, and that’s why I’m here. It’s remarkable.”

The vice president made a trip to Joplin to help dedicate the new high school and technical center, and he stayed until the end of the school day to meet with students and staff and look around inside the building.

The outdoor ceremony also included remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Gov. Jay Nixon, U.S. Rep. Billy Long, Principal Kerry Sachetta, Mayor Mike Seibert and Archie Smith, of Universal Construction, and featured appearances from two live eagles.

During his remarks, Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff appeared to struggle to find the words to adequately recognize the volunteers, teachers, staff, students, community members, assistance agencies, construction crews and donors who helped make the new high school a reality.

“How do you say thank you to all those who have been at our side for the past three years donating their time and resources, encouraging us, propping us up, pushing us forward and praying for us daily?” he said.

Several speakers also took the time to remember the destruction and loss of life left by the tornado. Huff called for a moment of silence to remember all 161 victims, including seven Joplin students and one staff member.

One Joplin resident called Friday’s dedication of the new Joplin High School a milestone event.

“It’s interesting how outsiders continue to come in and affirm what the Joplin spirit is, about our people and what we do, that we kind of take here as second nature,” said Troy Hill, a partner at BKD CPA & Advisors. “We get up, go about our business, do our thing. But across the country, they’re seeing it as something more. That’s really re-affirming.”

Hill, who was one of many in attendance at the dedication ceremony despite intermittent rain showers and temperatures that dipped into the low 50s overnight, praised Joplin Superintendent C.J. Huff, the Joplin Schools administration and teachers for the “great job they’ve done.”

Students also set out to break a record for the world's longest ribbon used in a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The district used a 6.5-mile ribbon, the length of which was chosen to represent the distance that the May 2011 tornado was on the ground in Joplin.

The length surpasses that of a New Jersey record, set with a 5.51-mile ribbon to reopen a portion of the Jersey Shore that had been devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

“We’re trying to really overstep them with six and a half miles,” said senior Alan Hass. “Why step up to the bell if you’re not going to ring it?”

Details for this story were provided by The Joplin (Mo.) Globe. 

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