Editor’s note: Jane Cage is the CFO and COO of Heartland Technology Solutions and a 30+ year resident of Joplin. Her work as the Chairwoman of Citizens Advisory Recovery Team and her efforts in rebuilding the city of Joplin after the 2011 tornado have earned her the Outstanding Citizen of the Year award earlier this year.
After the tornado destroyed Joplin High School, the students had to attend class in various locations spread throughout the city, including the local mall. Below, Cage expresses her gratitude and pride in the graduating class of 2012.
Here’s something you already know. Adults believe that kids have it easy, that for you, life is carefree. I’ve said, and I’ve heard my friends say, “I wish I was back in school again. Those were the days—no nine to five job, no responsibilities; just study and have fun.”
I can’t say that to you, the Joplin High School Class of 2012. You’re the exception to the rule. You are the harbingers of a new epoch, that instant in time that defines a new era. For all of us—and especially for all of you -- May 22, 2011 became the placeholder.
On that date, your world changed—from where you attended class, to where basketball games were played; from how you studied, to how you turned in assignments; from four grades together to a split campus. With so many differences, all of us adults worried about how your senior year would be. Would you be disappointed, angry or resentful?
And here you are today, one year later, sitting in the same place as the class of 2011. You’re wearing the same kinds of caps and gowns and your families and friends surround you. You’ll march across the same stage and receive the same kind of diploma. Everything is just the same and yet everything is different.
You are victorious in a way that no other high school senior class in Joplin has ever earned the right to be. You have learned lessons that would have never been found in your textbooks. This year’s experience has been your greatest teacher. Your shared experiences have united you in a unique and lasting bond. You have endured daily inconveniences and you have been delighted by uncommon gifts. You have been loved and fussed over by teachers, parents and administrators. You have been admired by not only all of us in Joplin but by people all around the world. You have been graceful and accommodating in the spotlight while you managed to create the routine and traditions that were what you expected your senior year to be. You have worked hard to get to where you are today.
I want you to know that all of us are proud of you—and you should be proud of yourselves. You enter the next phase of your life wiser than other graduates. You have learned lessons beyond your years and given back to your community in the same measure. You have taught us how to move beyond loss to victory. Out of the rubble, you have given us hope.
My hope is that the experiences that all of us have shared will tether you to Joplin even as you stretch your wings to fly. My hope is that you will see the world and then see that Joplin is the place for you. We need you -- we need strong, loving, capable people just like you as we rebuild Joplin to become a new and better place.
Soar high, fly without fear but keep Joplin close in your hearts -- because to us, you are Joplin.