|Katrina Survivor: Artist
Makes a New Home on Campus
Elijah Espinoza evacuated his dorms
at William Carey College in Gulf Port, Miss., only to ride
out Hurricane Katrina with his father in a two-story apartment.
Feb. 16, 2006
by Gail Matsunaga
Junior art major Elijah Espinoza was only in his third week
of classes at William Carey College in Gulf Port, Miss.,
when Hurricane Katrina hit Aug. 29.
"We were told to evacuate our dorms Saturday," he
says. "I stayed until Sunday, because I was going to
leave with a friend to Georgia."
Meanwhile, he urged his dad, who lives
minutes from campus, "to
get out of there. But, he didn't think it was going
to come, he thought it was going to hit New Orleans." So,
Espinoza decided to stick it out with him.
Miraculously, while every building surrounding
them was destroyed, the only damage sustained by his father's
apartment building was to the second-story roof — his
unit was on the first floor. At William Carey, half the campus
Three days later, an uncle — whose family he visited
every summer in Fullerton — sent Espinoza a plane ticket
to stay with them. Although it was too late to enroll for
fall classes, he started working for his uncle's staffing
service in Orange, where he continues to work part time.
Espinoza had gone to school on a scholarship,
but now, as an out-of-state student, didn't know
how he was going to pull it off financially.
"Mr. [Dean] Harris, [assistant dean of the College
of the Arts], and Mr. Larry Johnson [chair and professor
of art] helped out a lot. The first day I came here to visit,
they took out a day of their schedule to talk to me, to go
through my credits. I didn't expect that. I still have
to go and really thank them — I don't even know
what to say."
Regarding his studies, he says, "I wasn't sure
whether I'd go into graphic design, but now I think
I will. But, they also have illustration, which they didn't
at my other school, so I'm also thinking about that."
Fortuitously, Espinoza's future
had included Southern California after graduating.
"I always knew I wanted to come
out here for my career, to get started. Gulf Port is a
small town. For a lot of people a good-paying job is on
the shrimp boats."
Moving to a new area has brought on
interesting adjustments. "My
other school had 800 students, tops — and that was
a school record. There's so many people here, so many
ethnic backgrounds. There were 490 in my high school graduating
class and I was the only Hispanic person."
With all that's happened to him — the uprooting,
the changes — Espinoza says, "I'm just glad
to be back in school."
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