Personal stories of growth at Eckerd College

Johnny V. Boykins '08

Eckerd College Comes to the Rescue

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast of the United States. The devastation that occurred in Katrina's aftermath can not be compared to any other natural disaster to hit the United States. Over 1800 American citizens lost their lives in Katrina's fury. I joined the United States Coast Guard Reserves in the summer after my freshmen year at Eckerd with the support of many faculty and staff members. So, on September 5, 2005, when I was called to active duty to support Operation Hurricane Katrina Relief in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was surprised with the quick response of the faculty to ensure that I would be able to continue my studies while deployed serving the needs of desperate Americans.

As a young Coast Guardsman, I felt nervous about my duties in a real life mission. I was the youngest member of Port Security Unit 307 and freshly out of boot camp. I remember watching the aftermath of Katrina on TV when I received word that we were being called to active duty and needed to have boots on the ground in 36 hours. I had less then a day to settle all of my personal endeavors and figure out what I was going to do about classes. We were about two weeks into the semester and I was enrolled in a full course load. I walked into Student Affairs to explain that I was called to serve, and Dean Annarelli walked out of his office to help me figure out a plan. I knew that I wanted to try to maintain the course load so I wouldn't fall behind. Dean Annarelli made a few phone calls to some faculty and the registrar, and got my schedule changed to independent studies and an internship. Professor of Management Donna Trent was the first faculty member to respond to Dean Annarelli's request for faculty to sponsor a course for a student responding to disaster relief. She called me to her office and helped me with all the paperwork and provided me with course materials. She graciously charted a course plan and sent me on my way. My mentor, Professor of Political Science Robert Wigton, also responded and created a course where I studied the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I actually had a first hand experience and analysis to report when I returned to Eckerd. Dean Annarelli also signed on board to help me, and sponsored a course titled "Community Service Internship." I kept a detailed journal of my experience in New Orleans and I later submitted a copy in my writing portfolio. The quick response of these faculty members allowed me to continue my education while serving American citizens.

Port Security Unit 307 had boots on the ground within 42 hours of Katrina's landfall and we worked diligently to save more than 360 people of New Orleans. We also restored the integrity of US Coast Guard Station New Orleans to operational conditions. We remained in New Orleans for 30 days, working long days to help those in need. I retuned to Eckerd and worked on my independent studies for the rest of the semester. I will never forget the response that the dedicated faculty delivered when I was called to serve. I earned 5 medals in Operation Hurricane Katrina Relief but I share the greatest award, the Coast Guard Humanitarian Medal, with Eckerd as it came to the rescue as well. The United States Coast Guard's motto is Semper Paratus, "Always Ready," and the quick help that I received upholds that motto. Eckerd College changes lives, and lives up to the core values of the US Coast Guard of Honor, Respect, and Devotion to Duty.