Graduates Include Student Routed to Smith by Hurricane Katrina
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. – Three years ago this August, during her drive south to the University of New Orleans for the start of the fall semester, Anna Walton’s car radio announced the news that Hurricane Katrina had roared ashore in Louisiana.
As the winds battered the UNO campus, destroying her chances of returning there to matriculate for the indeterminate future, she turned her car north to her Martha’s Vineyard home and a search for solutions to continue her academic path.
Walton, who was 26 at the time, had already veered off track once from her undergraduate studies and she initially thought that Hurricane Katrina would force another disruption in her education.
But, two telephone calls later she was en route to registering at Smith College. And on Sunday, May 18, during Smith’s 130th commencement exercises, Walton will receive her bachelor’s of arts degree in education.
The telephone calls were critical to both ensuring Walton would remain on track with her education and determining that Smith would be the location.
During the first call, Anna’s older brother, James, reminded her that she had dropped out of college once, from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he urged her to avoid doing so again.
The second call, with Smith Director of Admission Debra Shaver, conveyed the disappointing news that Walton had just missed the deadline for the opportunity to take classes at Smith as a student displaced by the hurricane. However, it was Friday, Shaver allowed. If Walton could get to Northampton by that Monday, she could start classes.
Walton made it to Smith on time.
“It’s amazing when I look back on it,” said Walton, now 28, recently. “Hurricane Katrina upset my life but it set me on a path that I love….at Smith I finally found the education I’d been looking for.”
Although the agreement that Smith made with students displaced from colleges and universities struck by Hurricane Katrina stipulated that those students would need to return to their home schools once those institutions were back in session, Walton decided to remain. She officially enrolled at Smith as an Ada Comstock scholar.
During the years since she arrived on campus, Walton has taken classes in environmental ethics, natural disasters and early childhood development, and she has student-taught at the Smith College Campus School.
Last year, Walton returned to New Orleans for the first time since the hurricane. “I didn’t realize how cathartic that would be,” she said. “There was a lot of devastation still but there was also a lot that had gone back to normal.”
Although her brother helped Walton stay committed to her education, James won’t be able to attend her undergraduate commencement ceremony because of the birth of his second child.
But, Walton added, James does plan to attend next year’s commencement ceremony at Smith to celebrate his sister’s academic achievement. After winning a fellowship into the master’s of education program at Smith, she has decided to complete that degree, too.