New Orleans, LA - “From the Storm to the Stage” is their senior class theme and it aptly describes the experience of the 2009 Xavier University graduating class.
As freshmen in August 2005, many of these students not only experienced their first New Orleans hurricane, a yearly natural threat to the Gulf Coast, but the worst natural disaster in New Orleans’ recent history.
What makes these seniors stand out is that, whether a New Orleans native or first time resident, they were intent on returning to Xavier following the devastation of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which had most of the city underwater and impacted the entire region.
Following the storm, Xavier president Dr. Norman C. Francis corralled his administrative staff to work on Xavier’s recovery. The staff worked to meet the president’s demand that Xavier re-open as soon as possible. They succeeded and the University re-opened in January 2006. That spring the majority of students returned to the campus. Xavier, with its campus buildings lit up at night, served as a beacon of hope to returning residents in the city.
The new fall ’05 freshman class had only been on campus for a few weeks before the hurricane hit and displaced them. What made these students want to return even after enrolling in other universities that fall semesters? Most say that they had already established a bond for the campus and their new friends. Some said even after attending XU for only a few weeks, their experience at other campuses did not compare to the warm family feeling, the sense of belonging and camaraderie they felt at Xavier. Some of their classmates did not return for various reasons, but more than 74% did. And they are now facing the euphoria of graduation day.
“Xavier is more of a family for me than when I was at another school after the storm,” said senior business major Traylon Williams of New Orleans. “Xavier has more of a network,” he said. “The friends I’ve met at XU, I see us being friends forever. Besides, there are other reasons, like the faculty. They really work with all of the students and even the staff, like Career Services. They introduced me to the recruiter for the position I have now.” Williams currently works with the FBI. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in public administration.
“After the storm, when I attended another school, sure I had fun at the parties and the football games, but that wasn’t college for me. My mom attended Xavier and when I read about it, I realized it wasn’t just great in the medical fields, but in everything.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to come back after the storm. I joined Kappa Alpha Psi in the fall of 2007. I could have pledged at another school, but I wanted to be a part of Xavier’s Greek life. I’m also excited about the Division of Business which offers such great networking opportunities. I think Xavier really prepared me for the real world.
According to Psychology major Blake Clark attended a Texas college after the storm. “It was different learning environment, a different social environment. I love Xavier’s atmosphere and environment. I was ready to come back and I’m very happy I came back.
"Initially I wasn’t going to come to Xavier as a freshman. But I attended a summer program here and fell in love with Xavier and the city.
Clark will attend Tulane’s PhD program in social psychology on a full fellowship.
Pharmacy student Takena Reese was newly accepted into the XU College of Pharmacy in 2005. “There were so many reasons I just had to come back,” she said.
“There is absolutely no place in the whole wide world that is like Xavier or New Orleans! It was a long road for me to get to pharmacy school, a lot of challenges, but I considered it an honor and a privilege, everyone doesn’t get this opportunity. I felt like I had made a covenant with Xavier when I signed up. The mission, the goals of the university, I live my life that way. I identify with everything Xavier stands for and that’s where I needed to be. I didn’t even try to get into another pharmacy school, or like some of my classmates, take courses elsewhere. I was intent on finding a place to live and getting back to Xavier.” Reese is currently employed with Slidell Memorial Hospital and plans to continue to work there and in the Tenet Health System.
All of the students agree that returning to New Orleans and Xavier was a given. “I wanted to be a part of the rebuilding of my city,” said Williams. “Not coming back or giving back through community service wouldn’t benefit the city. The more people that come back and give back, the better our city will become.”
The 440 graduating seniors are looking forward to becoming alumni of Xavier University and pursuing careers and advanced degrees. Fifty-two have already been accepted to medical school with more expected.
The Xavier University commencement will be held Saturday May 9 at 10:00 AM at the New Orleans Kiefer Lakefront Arena. There, Takena, Traylon, Blake and their classmates, will move ‘From the Storm to the Stage,” to a bright future.