It is perhaps too much to expect a sitting president in an election year to deliver a whole commencement speech, in front of TV cameras at prime time, without having one dig at his opponent. "I imagine that as you begin the next stage in your journey," Obama said to the Joplin graduates, "you will encounter greed and selfishness; ignorance and cruelty. You will meet people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down; who believe looking after others is only for suckers."
That was the only whiff of politicking. The rest was devoted to the spirit of Joplin and its students, rising again against the odds.
"Some of life's strongest bonds are the ones we forge when everything around us seems broken. And even though I expect some of you will ultimately end up leaving Joplin, I'm convinced that Joplin will never leave you."
Today, Joplin high school is nothing more than a mammoth pile of rubble. It sits in the center of the city as a jolting reminder of the huge challenge that still lies ahead and of the tragedy that came before.
In total, seven Joplin schoolchildren lost their lives as well as one teacher. Half the district's school buildings were damaged or destroyed, and 3,200 students lost their classrooms.
Those receiving their diplomas on Monday had to spend the year cooped up in a converted corner of the main city shopping mall.
In the audience at the commencement was James Dobbs, 19, who had come to watch his twin brother Andrew receive his diploma. Andrew had been forced to resit his final year, and the going, said James, had been tough.
"It was hard studying in the mall. It was definitely a temporary arrangement. But he got through it, and I'm proud of my brother for doing it."
Ashley Taylor, 16, has one more year to go before she graduates. She said the school was stronger for having survived the trauma.
"We really pulled through. We are still going strong a year afterwards."
Also among the Class of 2012 sitting in front of President Obama was Quinton Anderson, whose story is exceptional even for such an exceptional year. He was picked up by the tornado and tossed like a rag doll, and woke up three days later in hospital to be told both his parents had died in the storm.
After six weeks of surgery, he had to teach himself to walk again. Yet he persisted and went on to captain the school football team and has now graduated with honors.
President Obama recalled Anderson's motto: "Always take that extra step".
"Today, after a long and improbable journey for Quinton, for Joplin, and for the entire class of 2012, that extra step is about to take you towards whatever future you hope for; toward whatever dreams you hold in your hearts."
Intellpuke: You can read this article by Guardian New York Correspondent Ed Pilkington, reporting from Joplin, Missouri, in context here: www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/22/obama-joplin-high-school-address