Friday, August 29, 2014

Katrina: 9 Years Later

Happy Anniversary, Katrina. Today, we are nine years stronger.

If you live in Louisiana, or anywhere in the surrounding region, then I'm sure you've seen your social media blow up today with posts about the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

I remember my Katrina experience like the back of my hand. I had just started eighth grade at my new high school. I was excited about being a "big kid," and I was excited about the new adventure I was about to embark on. After maybe a week or so of class, school was cancelled for a routine hurricane evacuation. Growing up in Southeast Louisiana, this was nothing new for me. In fact, I think I can speak for most people who grew up here when I say that, as kids, we looked at evacuations as vacations. "Wooo! No school! No homework!" And we thought this because, at least in my 13 years of living, we had never experienced a hurricane in which something actually happened to our city. Or family. Or friends. Or home. In fact, I figured that, at most, we'd get a little rain, have a few days off of school and call it a day. 

Boy, was I wrong. My life took a complete 360 on August 29, 2005. I remember sitting on my aunt's couch, watching footage of the water, the winds, the damage, the looting. It didn't seem real to me. About a week after, my parents went home to check on everything. While our damage was not nearly as bad as others, it was certainly enough to ruin pretty much everything. It's crazy to think how 4 feet of water practically washed away a lifetime; my childhood would never be the same. 

I remember the first time I went back home with my parents. We had gone as a family to clean out our house, and I was not prepared for what I saw. On the outside, my home still looked like my home. But the inside... the smell. That horrible Katrina stench of swampy water and debris that had been marinating in the Louisiana summer heat. It is permanently embedded into my nasal cavity. 

Walking into my bedroom, the carpet was completely drenched with brown water. I remember I had a photo bulletin board in my room. Some of the pictures had fallen off of the board during the storm, and many of them faded into the blank, white photo paper they once were before my memories had been imprinted on them. I think that's what hurt the most--the childhood photos, the mementos that had captured every stage of my life, my brother's life, my parent's life--they were all gone. Now, the first thing I pack before I evacuate are my photos, or anything tangible that holds a special place in my heart. Because at the end of the day, that is what matters; not the house, furniture or clothes.

When it came time to clean everything out of our house, I requested that I do the carpet. Here I am, a 13 year old going at it with an X-Acto knife and some gloves. I did almost all the rooms in our  house. My mom was cleaning out the kitchen, and my brother was helping my dad with the furniture and outside clean up. I was inside, channeling all my grief, frustration and anger into cutting up this water-soaked, heavy, smelly, brown carpet. I managed to do all of this without shedding a single tear. Finally, I walked outside to go get some fresh air, and all of the sudden members of the Coast Guard and American Red Cross drove down our street providing water, meals and first aid to those who needed it. That's when I lost it. At that moment, I realized that this was something so much bigger than me, and that no matter how much I tried to get revenge on Katrina by taking it out on our damaged carpet, this was something that we would be coping with for a long time.

If you think about it, it's interesting to hear people talk about Katrina today. Most people talk about it like it was yesterday. I went to a conference for work this week, and I took a walking tour of Gretna, Louisiana. There were so many quaint museums and old homes, and so many antiques from when the Germans immigrated to the area hundreds of years ago. I didn't know what kind of damage (if any) Gretna had received during Katrina, so I asked the tour guide, "Did y'all just get wind damage after Katrina? Did y'all receive any flooding at all?" As soon as I asked it, I caught myself. How could something that happened nine years ago still resonate so strongly with me? How can it still resonate so strongly with a community? Shouldn't we all be over this by now? Shouldn't we just move on?

But the thing is, you can't "just move on." So many of us were affected and impacted. And if you were lucky enough to not be physically impacted by Katrina, then I'm sure your life was shaken up just a tad bit--whether it was relocating to another city for a temporary amount of time, going to a "transition" school, moving away completely, watching people in your neighborhood pick up the pieces and attempt to rebuild their lives, or simply realizing how important your home is. 

If you haven't read the book "One Dead in Attic" by Chris Rose, I highly recommend it. It was one of my summer reading books in high school, and I had a strong love/hate relationship with it. It's a compilation of anecdotes and articles recounting the first few months in New Orleans after the storm. To this day, it is one of the best books I have ever read. Now, how could I speak so highly of a book I had a love/hate relationship with? Well, I hated how it took me back to that horrible time of despair, but I loved that it made me remember. 

And sometimes, remembering the bad stuff reminds you of how far you've really come.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In God we Trust...and Grandma, too

In God we Trust...and Grandma, too. Baby Amelia and Grandma's first nap together.

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Pictured above is my Tia (Aunt) Veronica, and my goddaughter Amelia. This was during their first nap together. How special!

Monday, June 2, 2014

A day in the life of a beauty queen: my take

If you follow me on social media, I'm sure you've seen an explosion of Miss USA posts throughout the past week. Because of my job, I am fortunate to work as an extension of the Miss Universe Organization production staff for this year's Miss USA competition, which will be hosted in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

The contestants at Nottoway Plantation.

Throughout the past few days, I've traveled to different attractions and locations in the city alongside the contestants. But before I go any further, I think it's worth saying that I am a total pageant girl. Not in the literal sense, but in the sense that I love watching them. I grew up watching Miss USA and Miss Universe with my mom; in fact, after each pageant ended, I would turn off the TV, take my best pageant stance and tell my mom to give me an interview question. I would answer as many questions as my mom was willing to ask--yes, I was THAT type of child.

Now that I'm working behind the scenes, it's extremely impressive to see how much really goes into filming footage for the telecast. When you're watching it at home, everything seems so seamless, but from the inside looking out, it sure is a lot of work. 

The contestants exploring the Rural Life Museum

One of the biggest things I've noticed is how awesome these young women are.  Ranging from nineteen to their mid-twenties, these ladies are intelligent, beautiful, outgoing and fun. It makes sense that all the contestants have these qualities; after all, they are competing to be Miss USA, which entails all of the aforementioned traits. But, as I said before, it's different when you're watching the competition from home--you really only get to see a contestant's outer layer of beauty, with the exception of a one- minute live interview question. 

The contestants at the Old State Capitol.

After getting to know some of the contestants, I must say, the media definitely does NOT portray how well-rounded and smart they are. Sure, they are pretty, but when you think of the pageant world, many of you probably assume the worst. For many, the words ditzy, competitive or self-absorbed may come to mind. With shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, and with videos like the 2007 South Carolina Miss Teen USA interview going viral, it's hard for the pageant life not to have negative connotations. But to be honest, these girls are down to earth. Take away the flawless makeup and the bedazzled dresses, and I feel like I am talking to any one of my friends. 

And they are all quirky in their own ways. Throughout the past week, I've witnessed contestants dance to Zydeco music, try Louisiana cooking without hesitation, hold alligators and learn about plantation life. I've learned that many are advocates for various causes, I've seen them karaoke in a crowded room, I've heard them talk about a love for cooking--and the list goes on and on. 

Tasting jambalaya at Restaurant IPO.

I am so lucky to have kicked off my career in public relations on such a high note. This has certainly been an experience for the books. Can't wait to see what this week holds! Make sure to tune into the 2014 Miss USA Competition on Sunday, June 8 on NBC at 8/7 central! It's going to be GREAT!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Cry me a river

I cried at my graduation. There. I said it.

Let me explain. Last Friday, I graduated from Louisiana State University. It was probably one of the best days of my life, even though I cried during the processional of my commencement ceremony.

I started my "big girl" job today, and I must say, I swore that I would never be the person to start work the Monday after graduation. But like everything else in life, we make plans, and God laughs. When I told people that I was starting to work the week after college, many couldn't believe me. In fact, for a while, I couldn't believe myself. In the past 3 days, however, I've thought a lot about what it means to graduate, and my college experience as a whole.

I don't think I was necessarily "ready" for the real world; I don't think anyone ever really is. I wasn't chomping at the bit to leave college behind, but I also realized that in this entire weekend of closure, growth and change, I never once felt a feeling of sadness. And I think that's because I did everything I set out to do in college. I gave it my all, and because of that, I received so much in return. That's why on graduation day, I cried tears of joy, tears of pride, tears filled with hope.

It sounds so cliché, but I am a firm believer in getting out what you put in. I put my everything into my time at LSU, and I'm looking forward to doing so with everything else that comes my way.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

Tomorrow, I will be walking across the stage in my cap and gown. Let me emphasize that: tomorrow, I will be graduating college. To say I’m apprehensive would be an understatement.

Throughout my life, I’ve looked at every experience as having a cushion. For example, after middle school, I knew that there was a cushion of years in high school to fall back on. In high school, I knew I had four years of college ahead. Freshman year of college, I knew there was a three-year cushion left, and so forth. But now that my college experience is witling down to its very end, I realize that for the first time in my life, there is no cushion. I guess you could argue that the “real world” is a cushion. But is it, really? To me, the real world is so vague, and I’m heading toward it whether I like it or not.

Those who know me know that I love a good schedule and plan, and I’m realizing that I’ve finally reached the point in my life where every moment does not have a definitive time stamp. I won’t be in a certain job for X number of years, I won’t be married in X number of years, I won’t have a vacation for X number of months…and the list goes on and on. For the first time in our lives, we have the choice to really, and I mean really, do whatever we want, for however long we want—and that is both awesome and scary…but at the current moment, it’s mainly just scary.

Because of the lack of a cushion, if you will, I have so many questions circling in my head. How often will I see my friends? What direction will my career take? Am I going to be as involved in the community as I was in college? Who will I keep in touch with? Who will I lose touch with? These questions all pose the very real truth that it’s really all up to me now to make those decisions. I am no longer going to be living in the structured bubble where educational growth, friends and leadership opportunities are all accessible at my fingertips. 

And now more than ever, it seems like everyone has comfort and advice to give us to ease our apprehension. If you pull up your Facebook feed, I’m sure someone has shared another “25 things you should know as a 20-something” or “8 truths about the real world” list. While all of this is fine and dandy, I think being scared can be somewhat of a good thing. I don’t think anyone has passed this milestone in life without hesitating about what the future holds—even if just a tiny bit. Just like a kid learning to ride a bike without training wheels, we need to learn for ourselves what this new, vague cushion of our lives will hold. And while we may receive guidance along the way, we are ultimately the ones navigating the ride.

Just like every other cushion, era, moment—whatever you may call it—that we may not want to end, we can take solace in knowing that everything always has a way of working itself out.

Congratulations to all of my peers who have/ will be graduating soon. We really did it. Now go out there and rock it.