An Orphan of the Storm Lands at Baruch

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Katrina Refugee Michelle Terry

When the order to evacuate New Orleans came, Michelle Terry, a student at the University of New Orleans, gathered up her two roommates and hit the road. They went to Atlanta, where for three days they sat glued to a TV set, until the enormity of the disaster sank in. There was no going back home. Instead, they took off for New York.

Ms. Terry, 25 and a New Orleans native, chose New York because she had been here before. She came at 18, an adventurous teenager, who ended up attending CCNY, studying graphic design. And she was doing just fine until 9/11. Then, she says, her part-time jobs dried up. Her parents were begging her to come home. Reluctantly, she returned to the Big Easy, enrolling at the University of New Orleans and changing her major to marketing.

It took another disaster to get her back to New York. “The three of us just jumped into our car and took one bag of clothes each. That was it,” says Michelle. The trio of friends, Earl the jazz musician, Mark the filmmaker, and Michelle piled into a two-seat Mazda. They headed north—for New York and City College. There, they got more help than Michelle ever expected. They enrolled in classes and Michelle was redirected to Baruch, where she could finish her marketing major. They even got a place to live, after an e-mail appeal to CCNY alums produced a (temporary) apartment on the Upper West Side. 

“I feel privileged to be here,” says Michelle, a buoyant young woman with a radiant smile. “Everyone has been amazing. My professors are amazing. I’d like to thank both schools (Baruch and CCNY) for the chance to keep focused, keep my life on track. I’m so grateful.”

Still, she admits, the journey hasn’t been easy. Like so many other Katrina refugees, Michelle and her friends are living hand-to-mouth. “Supposedly, we’re eligible for FEMA money, but no one has gotten it yet,” she says. Without money for rent deposits and security, they can’t look for a more permanent place to live. “People can only give you a couch to sleep on for so long,” she points out. “And the worst part is that everyone you knew—your whole community of friends—is scattered, displaced.”

So much has happened in so short a period of time. “I think everyone feels overwhelmed,” says Michelle, her surging optimism tempered by sadness.

 

Zane Berzins

News Director

646-660-6113