You couldn't mistake the anger in the eighth grader's voice as she watched one more video featuring near-tearful elementary school children talking about the May 22, 2011, Joplin Tornado.
"I don't want to hear about it any more," she said. "That's not who I am now."
I could understand her sentiments, even though I was also fully aware that the tornado had made this young woman exactly the person who stood before me.
She, like so many others at Joplin East Middle School, where I teach eighth grade English, have shed the title victim and instead opted to help others who, at this point, are in even worse shape. The evidence of that dedication was on display last Tuesday in the commons area of the warehouse that we have called a school since the tornado.
Members of our Student Council lined up behind tables filled with $1,400 worth of toys, all of which were given by the Joplin Fire Department to children who otherwise would not be receiving any this Christmas. East Middle School STUCO has always helped the fire department with its annual Joplin Christmas for Kids, even in December 2011, just seven months after the tornado. Normally, this display would have been held in our auditorium, but since the tornado, we have no auditorium.
This year, STUCO raised money for the toys through a Halloween dance and a benefit talent show. While the young student leaders ran a concession stand at that show, those who attended saw performances from the school's show choir, cheerleaders, current East students, high school and college students, and performances by faculty members (including my version of "Jailhouse Rock," desecrating the memory of Elvis Presley).
Those activities raised the money so others who are less fortunate could receive some Christmas cheer.
During the assembly at which this year's toys were unveiled and then accepted by the Joplin Fire Department, East Middle School's willingness to help others was extended to another community that has faced a tragedy- Newtown, Connecticut.
The students held a Hat Day Wednesday, the final day before our Christmas break, with any student who wanted to wear a hat contributing at least one dollar to the Sandy Hook Family Fund. Those who did not wear hats also contributed.
Our school days may be spent in a building that was once a warehouse, located directly across from an ever-aromatic dog food plant and these children were undeniably victims of the worst tornado to hit the United States in six decades, but that is not what defines them.
As I looked out across our student body, sitting on the floor of our commons area, all I could see was the spirit of Christmas.