WORLD NEWS
06/20/2017 06:17 pm ET

Otto Warmbier's High School Graduation Speech Celebrated Friendship And Unity

“We know when someone is struggling, and we come together as a class to make things better.”

Roughly three years before he was taken prisoner in North Korea, Otto Warmbier spoke to his graduating high school class about persevering through “the good times and the bad,” and holding onto friendships “to make things better.”

Warmbier, wearing a crisp white suit and black bow tie as the class of 2013′s salutatorian at Wyoming High School in Ohio, gave a nearly five-minute speech that included humor, humility, and special focuses on friendship and community.

He was pronounced dead this week after he was returned to the U.S. in a vegetative state. On Thursday, the 22-year-old’s body will be returned to his old high school for his funeral.

Warmbier said in his graduation speech that he took inspiration from an episode of “The Office.”

“I wish there was a way to know that you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them,” he said, repeating the words of character Andy Bernard.

He reflected students’ time together, which he acknowledged “wasn’t without its low points.”

In 2013, Otto Warmbier spoke before his graduating high school class.
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In 2013, Otto Warmbier spoke before his graduating high school class.

“We’ve made it through the good times and the bad,” he said. “We know when someone is struggling, and we come together as a class to make things better.

“Even when Wyoming’s class of 2013 is a thing of the past, we will have the support of all these people around us,” he continued. “We’ll have the knowledge we gained as a group and we’ll have reruns, the memories we created to be played over and over again.”

The college student had been detained for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel. He was
KYODO Kyodo / Reuters
The college student had been detained for allegedly trying to steal a propaganda slogan from his Pyongyang hotel. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.

Warmbier went on to become an honors student at the University of Virginia. He traveled to China during a break in his studies, and then onto North Korea with a tourist group. North Korean authorities accused him of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced him to 15 years of hard labor.

The North Koreans released Warmbier last week after 17 months of captivity. He was pronounced dead Monday at an Ohio hospital. U.S. authorities believe he sustained what would become a fatal brain injury not long after he was captured.

Warmbier would have been part of the University of Virginia’s 2017 graduating class.

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