After a Rocky Return, Hope Flourishes in New Orleans

BY MARK NEWBERG

New Orleans is in the news again, but this time we’re not courting disaster. In the face of all that’s happened, it’s nice to be able to focus on elections, on the politics of recovery rather than the experience of evacuation. There’s little doubt that our future will be full of stories from storms past, and from adventures yet unknown. For now though, it’s nice to look back and say, with an odd combination of trepidation and relief, “We survived that storm.”

Katrina changed everything for us. It tore a hole through the normalcy of our lives as it smashed our levee system to bits. We’ll look back at August 29, 2005 as the day our illusions died, and the day our sensibilities were shattered. We survived. We evacuated. We figured things out. We came together, and some of us ended up with you. We were there when classes started, 25 frazzled and bedraggled survivors, and you welcomed us with opened arms. The most trying semester we’d ever had unfolded, and we found ourselves, in the blink of an eye, summoned back to Tulane.

We all questioned what we’d find. It’s no secret that many of us weren’t thrilled with the way we were called back. Call it an objection on stylistic grounds, but the process didn’t feel right. There were harsh words spoken, and even harsher words were thought. There were dire predictions about the state of Tulane and New Orleans itself. As a Tulane Alumni, and an avowed critic of the season known as winter, I wasn’t exactly relishing the thought of marching back to New Orleans at the tip of a diploma-certifying pen.

I turned out to be wrong, not in my feelings but in my fears. It’s not that the move back was easy, or that this semester has been a walk in the park. It wasn’t, and it hasn’t been (though we do still have a few parks), but it has been meaningful. We’ve been a part of this city’s second act. New Orleans is starting to stand up, albeit at a speed that’s agonizingly slow. There’s been progress, but there’ve been a number of setbacks too.

We just had that election, which stands as a symbol of hope renewed, but not everyone was able to vote. Our Fortune 500 company is moving back, but declared bankruptcy somewhere along the line. We’ve been promised $6.2 billion, though we’re not sure exactly where that is. The lights are coming on, but much of the city isn’t home. Our levee protection will be better, but no one can say if it’ll be strong enough.

What I do know is that our return, and by that I mean Tulane, is an integral part of what comes next, and I feel better about that than I thought I would. I have a greater sense of hope now, and more motivation to see this through. I think, for most of us, the return was a cathartic thing. We needed to see classmates, exchange hugs, and shed some tears. We needed to share our experiences, to vent, to relive. Though the experience has been rocky, the academic atmosphere perhaps less-than-ideal, the importance of being back really has become clear.

This is a place now where ideas and experience will merge. There’s more opportunity to make a difference here than almost everywhere else, and a lot of us are staying, to do what we can do. We’re faced with the challenge of rebuilding a city, and we have to get it right. We’ll need contributions from everyone, no matter where they are. There’s a clarion call for leadership now, and we need those who have it to share. The door to the future is open, and we’ll be here, to help everyone walk on through.

Mark Newberg, who attends Tulane Law School, was a visiting student at HLS in Fall, 2005.

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