Student Feature: From Katrina to Columbus
Life was going as planned for Holly Walsh. She had just graduated from the College of William and Mary, moved to New Orleans, stocked her place with the tools necessary to make the three-year trek to a law degree, and had just finished her first tumultuous week at Tulane University School of Law. She was flying down the road she had long expected to follow, admitted Holly, who normally likes to establish a plan five years in advance.
But that course was quickly disrupted by one of the most devastating hurricanes in the country’s history. Hurricane Katrina ravished the country’s Gulf Coast in August 2005, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,800 and costing more than $81 billion in damages.
Holly, who recently finished her second year at Moritz College of Law, admitted that her Katrina experience was absolutely nothing compared to what many of the storm’s victims endured. And as much as Katrina disrupted her life, Walsh will be the first to tell you that the experience has helped her grow in immeasurable ways.
“This taught me to really go with the flow and come up with alternatives in unexpected situations,” she said. “I’m good at finding the positive in things. It doesn’t help to be mopey.”
Holly said that while visiting Tulane during her law school search, her father, who joined her on the trip, had just watched a PBS special on the potential tragedy that could occur in New Orleans.
“I said, ‘Oh, Dad, it’s been fine for 100 years; it will be fine for three more,’” Holly remembered. “Unfortunately, my father has a phenomenal memory, especially in those I-told-you-so moments.”
Holly’s roommate woke her early on that Saturday morning in August 2005 and told her that Katrina was on its way. Holly began to pack all of her belongings into the closet of her second-story apartment – a technique she learned when her family endured Hurricane Isabel off the coast of Virginia in 2003. A short-time later the same day, Holly left with her roommate, whose family resided in Memphis.
“I left almost all of my new stuff,” she said. “I packed enough clothes for three days and a new suit that my Mom had just bought me.”
While in Memphis, Holly said she learned that classes were cancelled through the following Wednesday. Little did she know that she wouldn’t re-enter New Orleans for another month, and Tulane would be closed for the entire semester. When she returned, she managed to salvage nearly all of her personal items except her submerged car.
Encouraged to make the most of the situation, Holly returned to her mother’s home in Toledo, where she began applying for internships and volunteer positions. She started work for a couple organizations, including the Toledo Lucas County Port Authority and the Lucas County Court Appointed Special Advocates.
In November 2005, Tulane announced that the school would reopen for the spring semester and would squeeze two semesters in to 20 weeks by offering classes six days a week. Holly decided that wasn’t for her, and began applying elsewhere.
Already appreciating Moritz College of Law’s reputation and the desire to be closer to family made Holly turn to Ohio State.
Holly credits her year off school for allowing her to grow and discover a new-found passion – working with children. Although once planning to pursue a career in maritime law (hence Tulane), Holly grew fond of her work as a special advocate. In her first year at Moritz, she worked with children in Columbus elementary schools to teach dispute resolution as a part of her pursuit of a certificate in Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Holly hopes to participate in the Justice for Children Project this year. She is already involved in the Pro Bono Research Group, the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution, and was publicity chair for International Justice Mission.
Holly, 23, admitted that, prior to Hurricane Katrina, she was a person who liked to “plan five years ahead.” That structured approach is now mixed with a preparedness to handle whatever life sends her way.
“After Katrina, my year off was very valuable,” she said. “You get to know yourself in a different work environment and really have a chance to find something that you know you enjoy. It ended up being great for me.”