Many graduating seniors at Joplin High School are anxious to get on with their lives. Somewhat incredibly, even a visit from President Obama on Monday evening was not enough to dampen the desire of many teens to move on from a tragedy that has defined a community in the nation’s eyes.

But the reality is that the community has been moving on—rapidly by some accounts—from last year’s EF-5 tornado that plowed through 7,500 homes and more than 500 businesses, claiming 161 lives and inflicting $2.8 billion in damages.

Click to see exclusive video footage of the tornado damage in Joplin one year ago.

Contrary to a cursory glance at Google Maps, there has been tremendous progress in Joplin in the past year. This was evident at Tuesday’s series of commemorative events, where tears did flow but anticipation of brighter days pervaded the air. The day began with a memorial service at Freeman and included a Unity Walk, groundbreaking ceremonies for local schools and a host of sobering, yet inspiring speeches by politicians and others.

In a ceremony held at a local park where 161 trees were planted to honor the victims, Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr announced that of the 7,500 homes affected by the storm, “61 percent are under permits to be rebuilt or have already been repaired or rebuilt.”

Rebuilding Joplin has been a valiant endeavor, one that 130,000 volunteers have readily assumed. Brick by brick, hand by hand, determined Joplin residents, charitable and faith-based groups, and individuals from outlying communities, as well as insurance company adjusters, restoration and construction professionals have dramatically altered the landscape of mangled buildings and anorexic trees.

One consistent presence in the community has been Convoy of Hope, which delivered thousands of pounds of food and supplies to displaced residents and has since stayed to help rebuild houses.

A diverse meld of these devoted souls, including medical professionals who “sutured under the glow of a flashlight” joined media and first-time Joplin visitors yesterday to celebrate the progress.

The following slideshow depicts some of the many highlights, including nearly 10,000 processing through the tornado’s epicenter. This orderly march was a rapid departure from the horror of people searching through rubble on May 22, 2011. Additionally, contributions of Habitat for Humanity (particularly the Tulsa, Okla. chapter) and even Extreme Makeover: Home Edition are tangible, in the form of new homes situated on pristine lots.

Photo credit: Dwight Douglas, all rights reserved

On this same day in 2011, thousands frantically sifted through mounds of debris for survivors and possessions. This year, nearly 10,000 people gathered to embark upon a “Walk of Unity” to symbolize where Joplin has been and where it is going.

Photo credit: Dwight Douglas, all rights reserved

The procession made its way through a 3.7-mile stretch of the tornado zone and boundless sunlight.

Photo credit: Dwight Douglas, all rights reserved

City leaders spoke fondly of the 130,000 registered volunteers who have been instrumental in a recovery effort that is, in many ways, unparalleled. The outpouring of help from neighboring cities has been immense, with some arriving only with their bare hands or basic household tools.

“A man who lives a couple of hours away arrived shortly after the tornado with his two sons and some chain saws,” said Dwight Douglas, counsel for Freeman Health Systems. “They just dove right in, clearing branches and helping distraught homeowners.”

The United Arab Emirates, which first made local headlines after donating laptops to Joplin High students, announced on Tuesday that it would contribute $5 million to Mercy’s St. Johns. A local “chainsaw” artist created this sculpture, which sits at the temporary home of Joplin High.

Photo credit: Christina Bramlet, all rights reserved

In a ceremony held at a local park where 161 trees were planted to honor the victims, Joplin City Manager Mark Rohr announced that of the 7,500 homes affected by the storm, “61 percent are under permits to be rebuilt or have already been repaired or rebuilt.”

Photo credit: Christina Bramlet, all rights reserved

The sheer cleanup involved has been staggering. FEMA covered 90 percent of the cost of clearing out the debris, while Missouri absorbed the remaining 10 percent.

“They blocked off all traffic for 60 days in the epicenter for 350 trucks to move in to clean up,” Douglas said.

Photo credit: Christina Bramlet, all rights reserved

The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team built several homes on this street less than a mile away from the demolished St. John’s.

Photo credit: Christina Bramlet, all rights reserved

“The talk of sacrifice and resilience of the Joplin community is not a cliché,” Gov. Nixon told members of the press following the Freeman Memorial Service.  The reality is that these people did not give up. They didn’t leave. They stayed and rebuilt the town.”

Heavily impacted after the storm were area renters, some of whom still reside in FEMA trailers, which can be seen when flying into the Joplin Regional Airport.