reg Mills, Riverside’s director of public safety, was personally invited by Gov. Jay Nixon to attend Joplin High School’s graduation ceremony on Monday, May 21 where the President of the United States gave the address to the class of 2012.
The ceremony came one year after a tornado devastated Joplin.
Mills said he feels extremely thankful he was invited to participate.
“The governor was very involved in Joplin and part of that involvement was the death of our police officer,” he said.
Following the May 22, 2011 tornado that claimed 161 lives, Officer Jeff Taylor, 31, died after being struck by lightning on May 23 while aiding in the Joplin disaster recovery.
“The governor attended Jeff Taylor’s funeral and delivered the eulogy at his funeral,” he said. “Riverside and Joplin are forever connected in that regard.
Mills said Nixon invited him to attend the event in “recognition of the sacrifice” the entire Riverside community has made to Joplin.
Mills described the graduation event as a remembrance and worthy celebration of determination.
“The graduation for the high school was a celebration of that school system and those students’ perseverance for what was a very difficult year for them. They were completely displaced, so it was a celebration for them…as the community rallies around and tries to resume some normalcy in their life while respecting the tragedy that befell them was worthy of celebration,” said Mills.
Mills said he was inspired by how the seniors at Joplin High School worked cohesively throughout the year to make their senior year a meaningful one.
“It made you feel good about their determination,” he said.
“There are many stories of adversity, success, and perseverance that came from that Joplin tornado. Certainly we in Riverside experienced all those things, but the people in that community experienced them many times over.”
During Nixon’s commencement he pointed out that the Joplin School District “became the rallying point for this community” and described the Joplin schools as the “heart and soul” of Joplin.
Mills described Nixon as the “point man” in the rebirth of Joplin.
“Having a high school graduation where the two main speakers were the governor and the pesident is very unique, and I think that spoke volumes about what that meant to everybody. It was humbling to be apart of that.”
Mills said President Obama’s message during the high school commencement was that they will forever be connected to Joplin even if they choose to leave Joplin at some point in time.
“I believe that is the same for all of us. I think we can leave Joplin, but I know certainly in Riverside, Joplin will never leave us,” he remarked.