Starting Over 101

Amy Myers wasn't going to be spending her 21st birthday, a Saturday in the end of September, like she imagined.

The senior from Cincinnati wasn't going to be surrounded by her friends or celebrating her coming-of-drinking-age in an iconic New Orleans bar like Pat O'Briens or The Boot.

She wakes each morning in a Central Campus apartment, thousands of miles from friends and family, hundreds of miles from her car or belongings, which sit in a New Orleans house so old that it shook when a bus drove past. At least it shook then, before Katrina.

Myers, who attended Tulane, is just one of about 60 students who have enrolled at Duke from hurricane-ravaged universities. They come from different schools, with different majors and different life dreams, but there is one common bond between them. They've lost their college experience.

"It's never going to be the same," said Bryan Molter, a sophomore biomedical engineering student who attended Tulane before arriving at Duke.

Katrina displaced an estimated 100,000 college students in Mississippi and Louisiana and closed countless institutions there temporarily. As the rest of America sat glued to 'round-the-clock television coverage, these students became one of thousands in an academic diaspora that now stretches from coast to coast. A relative handful of such students made it to Duke, and in the days since they left their lives behind in New Orleans, they've tried to immerse themselves again in university life. But many say that it's hard to forget - or replace - the intangible community spirit that defined their university lives.

For some, like Myers, leaving New Orleans meant heading into the relief and recovery efforts. As Director of Operations for Tulane Emergency Medical Services Myers was called to Baton Rouge by the state's FEMA director just hours before Katrina hit. From the makeshift triage center set up on the campus of Louisiana State University, Myers spent 16-hour days treating and transporting Katrina's survivors. She recognized one bloodied woman as a former Tulane classmate.

"It's just so bad down there. The devastation was unbelievable," said Myers, who spent a week in Baton Rouge before arriving at Duke. "What I was treating these patients for...just hearing the stories, that was the hardest part."

Dwight Blass, a senior economics major, is chair of CACTUS-Tulane's largest community service coalition, the Community Action Council of Tulane University Students. He spent the days prior to Katrina moving his belongings from a fifth floor storage unit to a first floor apartment, ironic now, and hoping to reach out to new freshmen and get them involved in service. The computer he spend a summer working to pay for is probably gone, but he refuses to concede that Tulane-or New Orleans- will fall to Katrina.

"Our graduating class will be defined by this event - for spending half of its senior year away, in the face of Katrina," he said. "But we're going to be closer and stronger because of it."


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