MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. And this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Coming up, we take a peek at the box office figures from the weekend. No surprise, Star Trek's numbers were out of this world. But is it the year's best blockbuster or simply a preview of many coming down the pike this summer? We'll let you know in just a few minutes. But first, triumph after the storm. It's hard to believe, but it's been nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina swooped down on the Gulf Coast.
The storm and subsequent breach of the New Orleans levee system caused massive flooding and left the city in ruins. Since the storm, New Orleans is slowly recovering and as residents strive to rebuild the city they loved, there is new cause for celebration. At Louisiana's Xavier University the class of 2009, whose freshmen came to the University just weeks before Katrina hit, graduated this weekend. Today we're speaking to a graduate of the class of Katrina. Conisha Holloman graduated Saturday. She joins me now from Baton Rouge. Welcome. Congratulations.
Ms. CONISHA HOLLOMAN (College Graduate): Nice to meet you.
MARTIN: So are you just over the moon? Are you still basking in the glow of your achievement? Or is it back to work already?
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Yes it is. I'm working until I leave for med school later on this summer.
MARTIN: Well, we are going to get your exciting news in a minute, but can I just take you back? You weren't in New Orleans when the storm hit. You were -you did evacuate. Do I have that right?
Ms HOLLOMAN: Yes I did. I evacuated to Baton Rouge, Louisiana that Saturday before the storm hit. It took me about six hours to get there which is usually a trip that takes an hour or so. There was quite some controversy trying to get out of the city and get rerouted since the interstate system was shut down.
MARTIN: What was that like? Was it scary?
Ms HOLLOMAN: To be honest with you, New Orleanians and a lot of people that live on the Louisiana coast are used to evacuating multiple times a year. So I had to evacuate previously that summer because I was down there for a summer program. So I was actually in the city some months before the storm hit. And everybody in their mind was just like, okay, you know, we're gonna be back in a couple of days, basically grab every book that you own, catch up on some work you didn't do over the first week of school and, you know, start school again next week.
So I wasn't really scared at that point. It didn't hit me until some weeks later after the storm hit and, you know, Oprah had a show showing how devastated the area was and the Super Dome that it really started to hit me that, wow, this is really serious. So it took some while for it to sink in, to let me know that this was a dangerous situation. But I'm glad I got out.
MARTIN: How did it affect your college career? I know you couldn't go back to school right away.
Ms. HOLLOMAN: No.
MARTIN: What did you do?
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Well, my mother - Louisiana State University was accepting students who were coming from schools in New Orleans, so I was registered into school that next week. So I spent a semester at LSU before Xavier opened up that January, when I was actually trying to transfer to Howard University from LSU, because I really didn't like it. There was a lot of racial tension that happened as a result because the African-American population at LSU literally doubled within a short period of time. So I was really ready to go to a different school, but I ended up staying for the semester.
MARTIN: What made you go back? I mean, there were a lot of people who would have just said, look, you know, I just don't need all this drama. And you had thought about it, going to Howard. So what made you go back to Xavier?
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Well, when I was deciding to go to Howard University, my cousin was up there for dental school and she said, you know, Conisha if you come up here, you might as well stay even if Xavier opens so that's a decision you need to make. And, you know, I enjoyed my experiences at Xavier thoroughly before, my professors are excellent, the program for science and biology is excellent and is very tailored to meet the needs of students.
And I didn't have that experience at LSU. It was a complete, you know, 180. I'm at this massive university. I can't find anybody if I need any help. No one knows where anything is on campus. So it really made me appreciate my experience at Xavier University, even though, you know, LSU has its perks as well. But I know that going to a smaller university was better for me and Xavier was that school for me.
MARTIN: What made - how do you think that your experience affected what you decided to do ultimately? And I have to tell folks that in the fall you are off to the University of Rochester Medical School. Congratulations.
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Yes, thank you.
MARTIN: And I think your hope is become a pediatric reconstructive surgeon. So how do you think - do you think that your experience with Katrina affected your sense of your self and your future?
Ms. HOLLOMAN: I think it made me even a little bit more courageous, considering I did, you know, take a chance in going back to a school in a city whose infrastructure was completely obliterated, if you - for lack of a better word. We were functioning on a school where most of the buildings were devastated. A lot of them were closed. There was construction going on all around us all the time. So with my future plans, you know, picking up, moving halfway across the country to New York where I don't really have that many family, I think Katrina kind of brought that out in me, that courageous spirit to just go and take chances.
Because, you know, life is short and you never know what's gonna happen. So, you have to take advantage of the moment when you have it. So I think that's how it contributed to me and my overall being.
MARTIN: Well, good luck to you. It doesn't sound like you need it.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. HOLLOMAN: I always need it. I have big dreams and aspirations. So, I can use all the luck I can get.
MARTIN: Well, our very best wishes to you. Congratulations.
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Thank you so much.
MARTIN: Conisha Holloman just graduated, as you heard, from the Xavier University in New Orleans over the weekend. She is one of the Katrina class. She joined us from studios in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In the fall, as we said, she's off to the University of Rochester Medical School. We all wish her well. Send her a pound cake or something from time to time. Conisha, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. HOLLOMAN: Thank you.
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