At the mention of the city of New Orleans, one’s mind can’t help but wander to the tragedies that occurred there in consequence of Hurricane Katrina, which marked its 10-year anniversary this past August. Hurricane Katrina is denoted one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, in which hundreds of thousands of people were left without homes or jobs and almost two thousand people were killed. In the face of calamity, though, the people of New Orleans managed to summon up resilience- a quality that has allowed the people and the culture of New Orleans to rise from the rubble and rebuild.
In late November, I touched down in New Orleans, Louisiana with expectations exceeding little more than jazz music, excessive amounts of crawfish and Mardi Gras beads. I had only ever heard of the magical allure that encompasses the city, the colorful charm, the mélange of people moving at all hours of the day and night, the “there truly is no other place like New Orleans…” all of the things that have to be experienced firsthand to fully understand.
After my family and I had arrived in downtown New Orleans and dropped off our bags in the hotel, we headed to the madness that is Bourbon Street for a taste of what was to come. Just a quick right from the iconic St. Louis Cathedral, one will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by all of Bourbon’s sights and sounds. With seedy palm readers and voodoo shops, interactive street performers, and even a seventy-year-old woman dressed as Santa Clause blasting rap music on a bicycle, Bourbon Street is what would likely result if Times Square and Las Vegas decided to have a baby, and then fed it a wide assortment of Cajun food. Though Mardi Gras had passed over nine months ago, rowdy hotel guests stand on balconies flinging brightly-colored beads onto unsuspecting passerbys down below, while beads that had missed their target lay draped across the rooftops and across the buildings’ scaffoldings. Various jazz bands situated in each bar seem to engage in an unspoken battle to see which can be the loudest, while iconic restaurants positioned along the sides of the streets bask in the underlying allure found in the insanity that we call Bourbon Street. Although many New Orleanians and college students attending school in the city claim that they avoid Bourbon Street like the plague, I found myself returning back four additional times throughout my already-short visit. New Orleans without Bourbon Street would be as jncomplete as Paris without the Eiffel Tower, just as incomplete as a trip to New Orleans would be without a visit.
The next morning, a short $1.25 trip on the St. Charles Avenue Streetcar Line later and we had arrived at Tulane University. Initially founded in 1834 as the Medical College of Louisiana, the second medical school in the South and the 15th in the United States, the state legislature established the school as the University of Louisiana in 1847. In the year 1884, a man named Paul Tulane donated real estate in New Orleans for the support of education, creating the Tulane University of Louisiana and privatizing the school. Located in Uptown New Orleans opposite Audubon Park, the Tulane University campus is embellished with huge oak trees, one of which holds a surplus of Mardi Gras beads, lush green grass characterizing the school’s “Green Wave” nickname, and over 100 buildings of a various gumbo pot of styles.
I expected the school’s tour to go just as any other I had endured through- a PowerPoint slideshow complete with bulleted statistics revealing the school’s 28% acceptance rate, 3.49 average GPA, 1870-2130 average SAT range and ranking as #41 in US News’ ranking of 2016 Best Colleges, a question and answer session revealing the school’s 9:1 student to faculty ratio, 65% enrollment of students from out-of-state, undergraduate population of 8,339, 16 NCAA Division 1 varsity teams, and a final tour of the campus revealing the school’s 110 acre area, 92 buildings, some of which include the School of Medicine, School of Public Health and School of Social Work, and a top-tier, teaching Medical Center located just 12 minutes from campus.
Instead of the expected, run-of-the-mill tour, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the school’s Service-Dog Training and Education Program, TUSTEP, which allows students to raise and train puppies until they are 18 months old, a perfect college attribute for aspiring veterinarians like myself, the school’s multiple Festivals such as Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, Barkus (a dog costume parade,) Po-Boy Festival and Crawfest, which is actually located on Tulane University’s campus, just to name a few. Tulane is also one of the most geographically diverse universities in the nation, has 33% of their population of students receiving non-need based financial aid, more than over 200 student organizations, including the Dumbledore’s Army of Tulane, whose description says, “The purpose shall be to enjoy Harry Potter as thoroughly as possible,” Tulane University Pre-Veterinary Society, Humans vs. Zombies, the Slam Poetry Team, Student Government, religious clubs, the list goes on.
Tulane University is truly a university like no other, and its unmatched nature is only magnified by the distinctiveness of the city of New Orleans. From countless beignet trips to Café Du Monde, a Jazz show at the historical Preservation Hall, photo-ops at the St. Louis Cathedral and the American Horror Story: Coven mansion, a tailgate at the Tulane vs. Tulsa football game, a 3-hour sightseeing bicycle tour through the city’s history-rich neighborhoods, a ridiculous amount of good food and so much more, it only took me three days to fall in love with a city I had never traveled to before and all that it’s streets have to offer, and I can promise with utmost confidence that I will be back.
In a time when neighborhoods across the city were quite literally being uplifted and dispersed, leaving behind little to nothing, New Orleanians uncovered a hidden blessing disguised in all of the tragedy. Hurricane Katrina rid communities of what would otherwise senselessly separate its people- the size of one’s house, the price of one’s car, the manicuring of one’s lawn- and instead revealed the underlying connection that the people of New Orleans now share, no matter their quality of life before the disaster. Hurricane Katrina, the Category 5 storm that devastatingly ripped through New Orleans in August of 2005, had effects far greater than the ones we see on television. Hurricane Katrina depicted to citizens the true “Jambalaya” of cultures that knit together, laced with an ultimate sense of pride in their incredible city of New Orleans that prospered despite all of the devastation- the city that I, along with thousands of others every single day, continue to visit, fall in love with, and jump to return to at every opportunity.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.