Tulane junior Kevin Doyle (left) and Loyola senior Sam Sotolongo. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Gulf Coast undergrads settling into dorms and classes at the Heights
By Stephen Gawlik
The last time Sam Sotolongo sat in a college classroom, his thoughts were on getting into medical school and finishing up his biology degree at Loyola University in New Orleans, a campus he called home for the last four years.
These days Sotolongo's thoughts are on his family and their future and what is in store over the next few months - all the while adapting to a new campus to call home, some 1,500 miles from Loyola.
"I'm still thinking about med school," said Sotolongo. "But there are a lot of other things to think about right now."
Sotolongo is one of 150 students new to Boston College this month, welcomed to campus through an emergency program devised by BC to assist Gulf Coast college students whose schools were closed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Most of the students were enrolled at Tulane University or Loyola, a Jesuit university.
[Earlier this week, the Gulf Coast braced for the possibility of more damage with the predicted arrival of Hurricane Rita.]
Many of the visitors live in St. Williams' Hall on BC's Brighton Campus, a residence hall that University administrators scrambled to prepare for the students when it became evident that Katrina had caused serious damage to New Orleans.
"It's really amazing what they did for us," said Kevin Doyle, a Tulane junior from Attleboro, Mass.
Doyle and other so-called Emergency Visiting Students (EVS) had high praise for Woods College of Advancing Studies Dean James Woods, SJ. Many of the EVS students are enrolled at BC in the Woods College, though each of BC's schools has taken in some students as space permits.
"[Fr. Woods] pretty much asked us how he could help. It was incredible," said Doyle, a psychology major and one of the few true Red Sox fans among the EVS students.
For Christine Mainguy, a Houston native and Loyola student who is a standout on her school's basketball team, BC has offered the chance to keep up her basketball skills as she plays pick-up games with the Lady Eagles, but only for a short while.
Student Affairs Vice President Cheryl Presley and Campus Minister Tony Penna address a meeting held earlier this month for Gulf Coast students attending Boston College. (Photo by Kris Brewer)
"The NCAA has some strict rules about that, so I can't really be on the team or even go to practice, but it's been a lot of fun," she said.
Sotolongo, a native of Louisiana, has been in close contact with his family to stay apprised of their efforts to begin cleaning out their home in Kenner, La., and attempt to salvage his father's automobile transmission business.
"We're lucky, everyone is okay. They were living in the shop for a while, but I think we're better off than a lot of other people," said Sotolongo.
"Most of my stuff is underwater, but it's just stuff," he said.
Sotolongo and Doyle knew each other from their short-lived stints with the Navy ROTC program shared by Tulane and Loyola during their freshman year. After Doyle found out about BC's offerings he called his friend and invited him north for his first visit to New England. Fr. Woods made it official after a phone conversation on Labor Day Weekend.
"My parents were really pushing me to go," said Sotolongo, whose family escaped from Cuba in 1980. "My father and brother have plenty of work to do, but they wanted me to finish school."
Has it been tough on the Cuban Cajun to adapt to life in Boston?
"There was some culture shock, but everyone has been pretty nice to us," he said. "I'm still trying to find my way around, but I've got one of your campus maps."
Sotolongo said the hardest part about his experiences so far has been the realization that he may never see some of his friends again.
"Some people just won't come back to New Orleans, so it won't ever be the same again," he said.
Mainguy said she wonders about the people she knew at Loyola who worked for the university - the people in the dining halls, the janitors and others who she saw everyday.
"I wonder if they are okay," she said. "I might not ever know."
For Doyle, the experiences of the last month are easy to keep in perspective after hearing the story of a fellow Tulane student:
"He was in the Caribbean this summer and had to be evacuated when a hurricane came through. Then he had to evacuate New Orleans when Katrina hit," said Doyle.
The student left New Orleans for North Carolina last week, but, as luck would have it, had to evacuate for a third time when Hurricane Ophelia struck.
"He called me and said, 'I think it's following me."