OKLAHOMA CITY – Seven tornadoes have swept through their town since they were born, but as new graduates donned caps and gowns to say goodbye to their high schools Saturday, they vowed they wouldn't say goodbye to Moore.
"I wouldn't want to be in any other place. It's our roots. Tornadoes are a part of life here," said 18-year-old Brooke Potter, whose current college aspirations take her to two neighboring towns.
Saturday's graduations for Westmoore, Southmoore and Moore high schools are another step toward normalcy for this Oklahoma City suburb ravaged by an extremely strong tornado. Monday's twister killed 24, including seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary School.
"I want to end up back here," Madison Dobbs, 18, said. "I've been here my whole life and can't picture myself anywhere else. Tornadoes happen anywhere."
While that's true, few other places have the amount and severity of tornadoes like Oklahoma -- and no other place has had a tornado like Moore. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman says the Oklahoma City area has been struck by more tornadoes than any other U.S. city, citing records that date to 1893.
When the current graduating class was in second grade, Moore experienced an EF4 tornado with winds approaching 200 mph. And three months before they started pre-kindergarten, a twister with the highest winds on record -- 302 mph -- sliced through their town.
"Crazy storms happen; the goods outweigh the bads," said Potter, who wants to attend Oklahoma City Community College, and then transfer to the University of Oklahoma in neighboring Norman.
With graduates wearing red, blue or black caps and gowns, Westmoore was the first of three schools to hold commencement ceremonies Saturday at the Cox Convention Center in Oklahoma City.
A teacher in the district said despite being big enough to have three high schools, the 56,000-strong community is still tightly knit.
"This is such a big district, but this is a small town," said Tammy Glasgow, a second-grade teacher at Briarwood Elementary, which was also destroyed but didn't have any deaths. "When you see somebody in the street, it's not a `hi' and a handshake, it's a hug."
Some students lost everything in the violent storm. Southmoore senior Callie Dosher, 18, said she sifted through the debris of her family's destroyed home in the past few days, looking to recover precious possessions -- her mom's two Bibles and the teddy bear Callie's granddad gave her shortly before he passed away.
But Dosher, too, wants to stay: "These people, I've grown up with them. I have all my friends here," she said.
Miranda Mann, an 18-year-old Southmoore grad whose family also lost their home, couldn't recognize her own neighborhood because of the damage. Yet the family has vowed to rebuild on the same ground.
"We loved the house we were in," she said. "But we get to make new memories in the new house."
Westmoore Senior Alex Davis, 18, will attend University of Oklahoma after graduation partly so he can stay close to friends and family.
"It speaks to how the community's banded together," he said. "We're not going to let a natural disaster beat us."