Washington — President Bush will share a stage with Greensburg High School students next month as he delivers the school's commencement address a year to the day after a fierce tornado tore through their tiny Kansas town.
Bush's May 4 speech will cap a weekend of events marking the storm's anniversary and celebrating the remarkable progress toward rebuilding the city and keeping the community together.
"We're just honored that he would take time out of his schedule and spend it with our students and with our graduates, spend it with our families and especially with our community," said Greensburg Public Schools Superintendent Darin Headrick.
The event has been in the planning stages for more than a month, but local officials said they were sworn to secrecy while the White House and Secret Service officials worked out the arrangements.
Headrick said the original commencement date of May 10 was changed to fit the president's schedule. That is the day Bush's daughter Jenna is getting married at her parents' ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Bush also visited the town days after the storm last year to lift spirits. White House press secretary Dana Perino said Thursday that Bush is "very pleased to be going back and celebrating that event with them."
There are just 18 students graduating from the high school this year, but Headrick said he expects about 800 people to cram into school's practice gym to watch.
"We have one building that serves as our cafeteria, it's our practice gym, it's our auditorium," Headrick said. "It's the 'cafegymatorium' but it's the only facility in town that can hold over 40 people."
The gym is the only permanent structure on the high school campus that has been rebuilt, but plans call for breaking ground for a new school in the next month or two. Students have been taking classes in portable units.
Stacy Barnes, an assistant to Greensburg's city administrator, called Bush's visit a chance for the city to show the world how far it has come since it was destroyed by a tornado that hit speeds up to 205 mph.
"To have the president come to your town twice in one year, it not only keeps people thinking about us and what we're doing here, but also gives encouragement to the people here that we haven't been forgotten and that our hard work is being seen," Barnes said.
Security for the commencement will be tight and attendees will have to have tickets. Barnes said the family of each graduate will get 10 tickets for the event.
Headrick said students are excited but not overwhelmed that the president will be at their graduation.
"They've had so many things happen in the last year," Headrick said. "They're very honored and appreciative. It's just one of a litany of things that they've dealt with throughout the year."
Bush's address in Greensburg is one of just three graduation speeches he'll give this spring. He also is giving the commencement address on May 28 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and on May 31 at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.