President Bush delivered the commencement address Sunday at Greensburg High School in Greensburg, Kan., on the first anniversary of the town's destruction by a tornado.
One year ago, 205-mile-an-hour winds blasted Greensburg off the map, killing 11 of its 1,400 residents.
Many of the small town's Victorian brick buildings and prairie-style houses are gone for good but slowly, Greensburg has reappeared. The water tower is back. And so is the lone traffic light. Plus dozens of up-to-date, energy-saving homes have gone up.
Bush told the 18 graduating students, assembled at the school's temporary gym, that over the past year they turned tragedy into triumph.
"We celebrate the resurgence of a town that stood tall when its buildings and homes were laid low. We celebrate the power of faith, the love of family, and the bonds of friendship that guided you through the disaster. And finally we celebrate the resilience of 18 seniors who grew closer together when the world around them blew apart. When the class of 2008 walks across this stage today, you will send a powerful message to our entire nation: Greensburg, Kansas is back and its best days are ahead," he said.
The school had changed the date of its commencement so that the president could be there. The initial date conflicted with Jenna Bush's wedding next week.
"I could have suggested changing the date of the wedding instead, but I think we all know how that idea would have turned out," Bush said.
En route to Greensburg, White House spokesman Tony Fratto noted that the trailers the school is using were paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Asked why delivering his first commencement address at a high school is so important to the president, Fratto said Bush was "struck" by the town when he visited last year.
Bush may have met every resident who was out that day, Fratto said. The president felt a "closeness" to the townspeople and was "impressed with their willingness to rebuild" and with the students, in particular.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.