The Maroon

There and back again

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Back in the dark ages of 2006, I received some harsh news from Loyola. An administrator told me that the Fall 2005 semester I spent at Santa Clara University, when Loyola was closed from Katrina, wasn’t going to get me out of my academic suspension. A series of buffoonish and irresponsible behavior the previous year had lead me down a path to mandatory time out of college, a hold on my financial aid plus an outstanding tuition bill.

When I broke the news to my parents, they said, “If you’re not in school, you’re not on the family meal ticket.” In other words, the time be a grown-up and get a job had arrived. In the void that was New Orleans after Katrina, there was a plethora of businesses in desperate need of employees. I eventually ended up at Commander’s Palace, one of the city’s oldest and most respected restaurants.

My close friend Andy had worked there a few years earlier and informed me that servers made “bank.” It would turn out he was right; within a few months, I was buying a car with my own money and paying my way with cash to spare. There was no worrying about classes, grades, mean professors or gossipy peers. Life was good for a 23-year-old kid with total freedom and all the time in the world. After about a year this would begin to change rapidly.

It’s the Spring of 2007 and all my friends were graduating. Guess who wasn’t invited to any of the graduation events and festivities. I was genuinely happy for my friends, but deep inside, I felt lousy. It was like I was being rejected from a club that all my friends for the past four years were joining.

The next big punch to the stomach was when I started getting bills from Sallie Mae because my deferment was up. Now I was paying 200 bucks a month for something I didn’t finish while serving food and drinks and kissing the asses of strangers for tips.

Spending time with family and friends got increasingly depressing too. My oldest sister was running her own successful design firm while the other was doing very well with her new P.R. company. Then, there was my brother who was moving up fast in the tech support industry. Of course, many of my friends were starting graduate and law schools as well. Some were already doing well at other jobs. “So what are you doing now?,” people would ask. “I’m still working at Commander’s,” I would say, followed by an awkward pause. “Oh, OK, cool,” was the typical response.

As noble and profitable as working in the service industry was, and still is, I wanted to do more with my life. It turns out that some of the cliche and preachy things parents say to their kids were right. The one that turned out to be most true was that nothing in life worth having comes easily. It also became very clear that being a successful college dropout like Mark Zuckerberg or Oprah was light years from the norm.

I thought about some of my coworkers who came from backgrounds far more humble than mine. For them, getting a job at a place like Commander’s Palace was an achievement. I had just walked in scored a gig because of extenuating circumstance from Katrina. I was lucky; that was it. I wanted to work for something and achieve it.

Getting back in school and finishing became my first real mission in life. After a few more years of work and saving, I resolved my problems with Loyola. That first semester back was fantastic. Unlike the first time I attended Loyola, I was damn proud to be a college student. I must admit, I was even a little smug when I told people I went to Loyola.

I noticed a lot of things at school, more was at stake this time around. Plus, I was dealing with the financial aspects on my own, without my parents’ help. When my classmates would skip, show up late or frequently screw around on their smartphones during class, I would actually get a little annoyed and think, “THIS CLASS COST $4,000. ARE YOU F-ING STUPID?”

Being back in school by no means meant the real world paused or slowed down; it kept on happening. In fact, it actually got harder. I had to start making an effort to not think about how much easier college would be if I didn’t have to worry about work, bills or the future zeroing in at the speed of light. Challenges have come my way far more intensely than I could have imagined, and I am certain others are still to come. I’m not worried, however, because I’ve learned that worrying is a waste of time and all anyone can do is keep their head up and push through.

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About the Photographer
Zach Brien, Senior Staff Photographer
A student shows how important comedians like Jon Stewart have been to developing critical thought in America.
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