Otto Warmbier showed off his warmth, humor and humanity in an evocative speech the salutatorian delivered at his 2013 high school graduation.
The 22-year-old Ohio native, who was released from imprisonment in North Korea in a coma on Tuesday, waxed nostalgic about their tight-knit community during his speech to his fellow Wyoming High School graduates.
“We know where everyone is going next year. We know where everyone has come from. We know how to make each other comfortable,” he said. “We know when someone is struggling, and we come together as a class to make things better.”
Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for allegedly stealing a North Korean propaganda poster from a staff-only area of his Pyongyang hotel. He was in the country as part of a four-day, three-night tour with Young Pioneers Tours, a Chinese company that markets itself as providing “budget travel to destinations your mother would rather you stayed away from.”
Doctors who examined Warmbier at University of Cincinnati Health determined that he has “extensive loss of brain tissue” and shows “no signs of understanding language.” They described his current condition as “unresponsive wakefulness.”
North Korea reportedly told a U.S. official that Otto contracted botulism and slipped into the coma after taking a sleeping pill. The country said they released the college student on “humanitarian grounds.”
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His father, Fred Warmbier, broke down during a press conference Thursday while talking about his son.
“Otto, I love you and I’m so crazy about you, I’m so glad you’re home, you are such a great guy,” he said. “My family has been rock solid throughout this, we have supported one another.”
Back in 2013, Warmbier’s graduation speech displayed his love of school and community when he spoke about his attempts to find the perfect quote to sum up their high school class — and was shocked when he found it while watching the series finale of The Office and heard a phrase uttered by actor Ed Helms.
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them,” Warmbier says, quoting Helms’ character, Andy Bernard.
“To me, that one sentence completely captures the feeling of this graduation,” he says. “This is our season finale. This is the end of one great show, but just the beginning to hundreds of new spin-offs.”
Later, Warmbier ended his speech on an equally wistful note.
“This isn’t our last day together as Wyoming’s High School class of 2013. Tomorrow morning we will all belong to another class, another job or another city. No matter where we go or what we do, though, we will always have this group here … We’ll have the support of all of these people around us. We’ve have the knowledge we gained as a group. And we’ll have the reruns, the memories we created to be played over and over again.”