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The ‘Class that Almost Wasn’t’: Katrina Class of ’06

Following are reflections of the experiences of three Catholic high school seniors from the Class of 2006 as the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches. 


Ryan Boudreau, Archbishop Rummel


From the moment anyone enters high school, the thought of being a senior remains constant until that special moment arises. I can remember my first day as a high school freshman and wishing I could fast forward through the next three years and be one of the senior leaders on campus. But when those three years were up for me and it was time to become one of those senior leaders, I never imagined that my senior class at Archbishop Rummel High School would impact more lives than we could ever imagine.

I think back to our final football practice before this problem child named “Katrina” was coming. Coach Jay Roth told us to do as our parents told us, to leave town if they wanted to leave and not to question them, and to stay in touch as best as possible.

To this day, Coach Roth is one of the most confident speakers I have ever heard. He has a charisma that makes his thoughts seem to be written in stone, so when he addressed the team as we were dismissing that day, I could sense an uncertainty from Coach.

I can remember thinking, if Coach Roth does not know what is happening, no one knows.

As Hurricane Katrina pummeled our great city of New Orleans, I foolishly thought only about myself. I was worried about my family home, my senior year, my football season, my car and everything else involved in my life. After a few days of horrific cell phone service, I received a call from Coach Roth asking if my family was safe and if everything was OK.

I asked him when our next practice was and I remember him chuckling and saying, “Probably not for some time.” Immediately, I was furious about this “Katrina” messing up my life and forcing me to a different state, which had awful food and a foul-smelling hotel.

After being able to make it to Houma a few weeks after the hurricane hit, my parents enrolled me in Vandebilt Catholic High School, where I stayed for four weeks. Everyone was extremely nice and considerate, but the entire time I just wanted to go back to my school, Archbishop Rummel.

Finally, Mr. Joseph Serio, admissions director, called and was extremely excited to tell us that Rummel planned on opening its doors to as many high school students as possible.

After another very long week, I remember standing on my campus in my Rummel uniform with about 15 or so classmates watching parents with blank stares on their faces file into the cafeteria. It was standing room only as about 500 parents gathered to learn that Rummel was going to open its campus in the afternoon to other students from area schools, which would later become known as Archbishop Rummel Transition School or “Rummel T.”

As time passed, students from Mount Carmel, Ursuline, Brother Martin, Holy Cross, Dominican as well as others came onto campus. Watching these students from all different schools wearing all different uniforms made me realize how important the moment was and how the administration at Archbishop Rummel stepped up in that great time of need. When times are at their worst, the true character in people really comes out.

Led by its school leaders, Archbishop Rummel opened its doors to more than 1,500 students from all over the Greater New Orleans area. Watching our selfless leaders give themselves more work so that all of these students could go to school was the greatest display of servant leadership I have ever witnessed.

When I think of the famous saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going," immediately I think of this scenario that played out my senior year.

Hurricane Katrina was hard on everyone. Human nature would be to focus on ourselves and getting our own lives in order, but that is exactly the opposite of what Rummel did. Without any doubt, it was Archbishop Rummel High School’s finest hour.

That senior year, I learned there is always someone who has it worse off than you, and the best way to get through my own worries is to help them get through theirs along the way.

For all these reasons, I must thank Katrina for giving me the best senior year possible and a different outlook on life. I will be forever grateful.


Rebecca Gardner, St. Mary's Dominican

On the Friday before the storm, my friends and I were living it up at Dominican’s Back to School Dance, whose theme, “Under the Sea,” eerily foreshadowed the upcoming year. Winning the costume contest took priority over packing weekend getaway bags.


The next morning when my parents decided to evacuate, the feeling about the trip was surprisingly serene. We packed, moved photo albums upstairs, piled into cars and headed east. To me, this extension of summer was welcomed considering I had not yet finished my required summer reading.


After learning of the extensive devastation, feelings of disbelief and alertness ensued. Dominican’s administration promptly partnered with the student council and implemented a school-wide phone tree.


Because returning to the city within a few weeks looked bleak, continued communication was vital. I’ll never forget initial conversations I had with classmates who were displaced across the country. As we shared the fear of our unknown future, an array of thoughts circled through my mind: how fortunate I was to be safe and with my family; could Dominican rebuild and would students return; did my outdoor cat fare well through the winds. Side note: The cat survived, thanks to a friend and a pirogue.


The week following the storm, my parents had me register for classes at a public school in Florida. My heart sank at the thought of missing ring Mass, rally day and a final year of long lunches with friends. I resisted this forced change, knowing the camaraderie and sense of belonging Dominican fosters could not be found in a new school.


My displaced classmates and I quickly realized our immense appreciation for our school and those saddle oxfords.


Once Dominican reopened, seniors hit the ground running. The loved pom-pom tradition along with ring Mass and a pep rally was held within the first week back. Halls were filled with hugs, storytelling and a deep appreciation for one another. As seniors during this wayward time, we understood our role was to lead with empathy, humility and respect. Emotional maturity bound us together and projected positively onto our final semester and even our Rally Day skit.


My most memorable post-graduation visit to Dominican was a stop at the alumni office to replace a coworker’s yearbook, which was lost in a house fire. The campus looked different but felt the same. While I can never forget how our senior year “almost wasn’t,” the aspects of Dominican I will remember most are its strength in education, focus on faith and service, and unbreakable sense of community.


The challenges of Katrina taught the Class of 2006 and every Gulf Coast resident to confidently approach future obstacles with compassion and optimism. The storm and its aftermath forced us to value relationships and experiences over material items, a sentiment we should hope to forever hold onto. 

Brian Anthony Smith, St. Augustine
 

I am a graduate of the St. Augustine High School Class of 2006. I am known in the city by my friends as “Smitie.” I attended Truman State University for a brief period but got my degree from Universal Technical Institute in automotive mechanics. I was born and raised in New Orleans East. I am currently employed by Nordstrom Rack as the combined operations manager.


I remember Hurricane Katrina like it was yesterday. I had just started my senior year at St. Aug. I remember not re- ally feeling anything because we originally weren’t going to leave New Orleans. The year before a hurricane had threatened to hit New Orleans, and we evacuated and were on the road to Texas for about 27 hours only for the hurricane to turn and completely miss New Orleans.


So this time around, my dad, brother and I had already decided that we were going to ride this one out. There was no preparation for Katrina because we assumed the storm would turn, just like the year before, but we were wrong.


On Aug. 28, 2005, my mother woke up at about 5 a.m. crying and said we needed to pack small bag and get out of the city. New Orleans had just announced on the news a mandatory evacuation of the entire city.


As I sat with my family in a Dallas hotel watching this tragic event unfold, my first feeling was, Lord, please make sure everyone got out of the city safe and sound. After a quick prayer, I looked up at the TV and my world was rocked forever. They were showing New Orleans East and how the raging water was destroying house after house after house. My knees started to shake as I walked back to my hotel room in silence.


As soon as I got to my hotel room door, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My city, my home and my people were all lost. I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed on the TV. My first conscious thought was it was time to step up, get a job and started bringing in some income for my family because we were now officially homeless.


In the weeks following Katrina, my family moved to Tyler, Texas, and at the time my cousin’s husband was the president of Texas College. His campus house was vacant, so we lived there for about a month. My younger cousins and I got a job doing tile driveways just to make some kind of money. Then the decision was made that we weren’t going to go back to New Orleans soon, and we needed to get back in school and finish our senior year.


I didn’t return back to New Orleans for my senior year. I stayed in Tyler with my family and finished high school there. The people of Tyler took us in and treated us like family, and I will forever be grateful for the sacrifices they made for us. They helped me get my life back together. They helped me get back on the football field and on the track. Life was normal again – in a way. Katrina still lurked around in the back of my mind and still does today.


The one thing I will always remember about that year is the fact that we weren’t going to leave at first. My father and I were content with riding out the storm and staying with our home in New Orleans East. It’s the one thing I will always remember because I wouldn’t be here today telling my story if we would have stayed. I am thankful my mother put her emotional foot down and made us leave the city.


This experience changed my life completely. I was very upset when it all happened because I had a promising football career ahead of me, and the sky was the limit. But when I sit back and think about the past 10 years, I’ve had a very successful life so far. In 2008 I met the love of my life, Nadine G. Smith, and we have been married for 5 1/2 years now. We have two beautiful daughters – Reagan (6) and Ryann (3). We currently reside in Houston. My wife is an academic advisor for the Spring Branch Independent School District. In a way, I am thankful for Katrina because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the storm.


There is only one lesson that Katrina taught me that has stuck with me, day in and day out: Never ever take anything for granted, because you never know when it can all be taken away from you so quickly.


When I was in high school, I took a lot of things for granted. I didn’t take advantage of opportunities when I should have. But now I live every day to the fullest and will never take anything or anyone for granted again.


When I visit New Orleans, I get very excited because I am so proud of how my city emerged from the ashes and rebuilt. I know and understand that New Orleans will never be what it once was before Katrina. Whenever I pass by St. Aug, I remember all the good times and bad times that we had in those classrooms and hallways. I’m saddened by the fact that I never got to play my senior year of football for St. Aug but grateful that someone gave me a chance to display what I could do even after Katrina.


I enjoy telling my story of how Katrina made me the man I am today. The only advice I have for someone going through what I went through that year is this: The Lord wouldn’t place any obstacle in your way he knew you couldn’t overcome. I thought my life was over after Katrina, but after I prayed and I asked the Lord why, over the course of 10 years, he is continuing to show me why things happened the way they did.


I didn’t understand it at first, but my understanding of it continues to grow with every passing year. 



 

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