Joplin, Missouri (CNN) - Like nearly every high school senior who has ever donned a cap and gown, Scott Lauridsen was excited.
Finally, after four years at Joplin High School, it was time to go. Graduate. Celebrate. Step up to the next stage of his young life.
"I was excited - ready to start things new and move onto college and experience life and then all this happened," said Lauridsen, 18, one day after the deadliest American twister on record ripped through his hometown of Joplin, Missouri.
"Now I'm just worried about helping out with the community and getting things back together," he said.
A recent graduate's joy: Another casualty of Sunday's terrible tornado.
Lauridsen was one of about 450 seniors to receive a diploma from Joplin High School this year. Their graduation ceremony at a local university wrapped up just as the storm started to roll in.
Students filtered out of the gymnasium and onto an open lawn as proud parents, family and friends snapped pictures - smiling graduates against a backdrop of darkening skies. A light rain began to fall and people rushed to their cars.
Aaron Frost, another graduate, left with his girlfriend. They were headed to a restaurant to meet his family when Frost, 18, got a call from his mother.
"She pretty much demanded that we pulled over," he said. "I would have drove right into the storm. My mom pretty much saved me there."
Frost and his girlfriend ducked into a Fast Trip convenience store and took cover, along with about 18 other people, inside a walk-in cooler.
"You can't really do anything," he said. "We just bent over and covered our heads."
A piece of glass struck Frost's hand but otherwise he is fine. The store and his car were not as lucky.
Later, Frost went by his old school, where the roof was ripped off and debris was strewn across the lawn.
Kerry Sachetta, principal at Joplin High School, described the damage as "terrible."FULL STORY
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with