56: Katrina University

56: Katrina University

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

Katrina University

A bend in the road is not the end of the road... unless you fail to make the turn.

~Author Unknown

New Orleans. New Orleans isn’t just a city; it’s a state of mind, a way of living, an understanding among people, a sign of hope, a place of faith, and uniqueness and creativity at its finest. When New Orleans first entered my life, it was just the place where I would attend college for the next four years. I knew it would be my home away from home, but I didn’t realize it would steal my heart.

My first three days of college at Loyola University New Orleans were normal. Attending freshmen orientation activities, meeting new people, signing up for classes and adjusting to the glories of dorm life. The fourth day was a little different. None of my friends from home got a wake-up call similar to mine.

My suitemate woke me and delivered the news that would alter my future dramatically: “There is a hurricane heading our way, and we have to evacuate... now.” I hopped on a Greyhound bus with my roommate to go visit a friend for the weekend at the University of Alabama. I figured that it would just be a three-day journey away from my new life, but after my twentieth hour on the bus, I had a feeling I might not be returning for quite some time. After missing connecting buses, taking cabs, sleeping in hotel rooms and never actually making it to my original destination due to hurricane traffic, my parents eventually convinced me to take a flight home.

When I finally returned to Connecticut to find out that a Category 5 hurricane was headed right for my new city, reality hit. I prayed and hoped that somehow the laws of nature would spare New Orleans. Then the levees broke.

New Orleans went into a complete state of chaos. My eyes were fixed to the television as I saw suffering and devastation. People being lifted from their houses, weak and scared. Whole communities washed away, only the rooftops still visible from a bird’s eye view. I saw the mayhem and kept asking myself, “Is this America?” It was hard for me to comprehend that what I was seeing on television was the United States and not some unruly third world country.

I sat miserably on my couch for days with my eyes glued to CNN. I couldn’t even imagine what the next step would be. After a week went by, it was obvious we would not be returning that semester... maybe never. Loyola’s communication system was down, and we were left confused and lost, with no direction from the school on what to do next.

We eventually found out that other Jesuit schools were opening their doors to hurricane students, so my fellow New Orleanians and I took a trip up to Boston College. When we got to Boston, we were anything but excited. The admissions people were taking us on tours, introducing us to deans and priests, showing us their course selection, and bragging about their facilities. Even if they had had castles as dorms and swimming pools as classrooms, I would not be content, simply because Boston was not New Orleans. When I went to receive my Boston College ID, I think I scared the photographer with my death stare. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, but even more, I dreaded my return in three days.

I went home to prepare for entering a new college... again. But I didn’t even have anything to pack. As a girl, in her freshman year of college, it is safe to say I took everything I owned to New Orleans. I evacuated with a pair of jeans, a shirt or two, and oddly enough, my comforter from my bed because I thought I would be sleeping on the floor in my friend’s dorm. I had nothing else. I packed up all of the old, out-of-style clothes that I had planned on never wearing again. I rummaged through my mom’s and sister’s closets to see if I could find anything that fit, but my mission was unsuccessful. I attempted to go shopping, but for the first time, shopping was not fun. I had no motivation to get anything; I didn’t even know where to start.

I made the same trip to Bed Bath & Beyond that I had made a week prior in New Orleans. I purchased the same bright blue and green towels, the same shoe rack, the same fold-up laundry bag, and the same 300-thread-count Egyptian sheets. On that Sunday, my parents packed up the car, since I had no willingness to do it myself, and I began my journey up to Beantown.

When I arrived, my parents were “ooing and awing” as we pulled up to the cathedral style buildings, enormous stone walls, perfectly manicured football stadium, and aligned, full oak trees. We were directed to my dorm, otherwise known as the old seminary. It was a beautiful stone building up on a grass hill across from campus. When I arrived, it was the first time in days I felt relief as I saw other students miserably unloading their belongings and fighting with their parents; I knew I wasn’t alone.

While some of my peers grew up during their first year of college, I was forced to grow up in my first week. Boston College was very accommodating to us, but my first semester of college was a tough journey. I had to completely change my plans and my state of mind, and think quickly on my feet. After the semester was over, we had to decide if we wanted to go back to New Orleans or make other plans. There was no doubt in my mind; I wanted to return to where I was originally supposed to be.

I can’t pinpoint what made me come back after the hurricane. I’m not sure if it was my long, painful Greyhound bus ride out of the city that made me think that, after all the effort, I had to go back. I’m not sure if it was the intense passion I felt while watching the eye of a Category 5 hurricane head straight for my bowl of a city, or seeing the first signs of hope and life emerging in the French Quarter. It might have been the loyalty I saw coming from the people who stayed behind and stood strong. It could have been those three days I spent there that drew me back. Then again, it could be all of those reasons. All I know is that I saw something in this city. I felt a feeling that I had never felt before; it was a deep, soul-burning passion that pulled me in like quicksand and pulled me back once again.

~Cristina Catanzaro

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