Why I’m thankful every day to have “Tulane” on my resume

TulaneCollage

And yes, I really do mean every day. But especially on days that include interviews or meetings with people I don’t know.

I’ve only been in the workforce for about a year and a half. But I’ve had my fair share of professional encounters during that time. I’m a qualified graduate. Graduated with honors, won a few awards, have had my fair share of internships and experience. What I’m saying is, I have enough material for the standard cover letter/interview #humblebrags.

A few months ago I walked into an higher-ups office at work who I was meeting for the first time. I was nervous – and then I saw The Blue Dog. You know the one. I said, “you a New Orleans fan?” motioning to the frame. Turns out he’s close with the artist. Who knew? A few months later, in a not so dissimilar setting, a producer asked me “Tulane? How was it?” It wasn’t in that disinterested, killing time, kind of way. He wanted to know how it was.

Here’s the thing you realize when you leave New Orleans: it really is as interesting and unique as Tulane marketed it to be. The city itself is amazing, not just for what it endured and rebuilt after Katrina, but for the traditions, weirdness, and people it attracts. It is a city unreplicated anywhere else in the U.S., and I’d go so far as to say the world. Now, of course you can say the same about New York or D.C. or LA. Of course these cities have something special and cool about them, those certain traits that move millions to call them home. But not like New Orleans.

New Orleans has a je ne sais quoi. You can’t quite place what makes you love it, what makes you want to know about it should you encounter someone who has spent time there or even called it home, what makes you want to be around people who understand just what it means (both to miss her and to know her). It’s hard to put your finger on a tangible reason why your heart swells when you hear jazz through your headphones and you just imagine it for real at Blue Nile. And you can’t explain why plastic beads and the color combos of green, purple, and gold – or black and gold, for that matter! – make you feel a little drunk and a little nostalgic all at the same time.

So when my cold-meetings get New Orleans-warm simply because my resume lists me as a Tulane alum, or when a conversation with strangers leads me to say I grew into myself for four years down in New Orleans, I’m thankful.

Not that I wasn’t before. But it’s always nice to have a reminder.

Laissez le president rouler: Farewell, Prez ‘Scotty C’

Friday morning I received a typical post-grad Tulane Talk from Tulane President Scott Cowen. I usually click in, skim the subject line, and hit the trash icon, but today was different. Today was actual news: Our very own “Scotty C” was leaving Tulane, effective July 2014.

I came in after Katrina, so I won’t pretend I knew what it was to literally weather that storm, but I do know what I came into: school desperate to recruit students of the same, and higher caliber, that they had before the storm; an academic and extra-curricular structure that had a lot of holes due to cuts made in the aftermath of Katrina; a wonderful, vibrant city just re-acquiring its post-storm sea legs, and a university chomping at the bit to help.

Despite missing Katrina, I didn’t go un-hurricaned in NOLA. I was a guinea pig of sorts to Scott Cowen’s post-Katrina communication methods and implementation of new evacuation techniques in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, which ended up being not as bad as the subsequent Hurricane Irene. Go figure we evacuated for one and not the other, and ironically on the anniversary of the Katrina evac. But I have a worrier for a mother and I know she felt as comfortable as she could have been with her little girl leaving a strange new place because of a hurricane, and that was due in large part to the transparency provided by Cowen and his staff during that time.

Nothing is perfect – and that goes for Cowen’s 15 years as President. As is the case for most leaders tasked with making tough calls in times of crisis, Cowen received blow back for his decisions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to reduce the School of Engineering and to co-opt, and thus eliminate, Newcomb College, into Tulane University.

Now, I’ve never been a science girl and engineering was never in my cards, but the choice to take apart an entire sub-sect of Tulane academia is never really a good thing. Tulane’s academic casualties due to Katrina in this department were: mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer engineering, environmental engineering, and computer science, and also a bachelor’s degree in exercise science. The university’s recovery plan also outlines that the cutting of twenty-seven of its forty-five doctoral programs and suspended eight NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic programs.

I have, however, always been a girl’s girl. What I mean by that is, I like the idea of Newcomb College and I like the idea of women helping to push, support, and foster the growth of other women. I’ve long denied the label of “feminist” but hey, maybe this is the time to call a spade a spade. Regardless, the merge and elimination of Newcomb College as an entity separate and parallel to Tulane was never something I had an opinion on, possibly because I never knew Newcomb as a separate entity as I know it was designed to be. I used Newcomb lunches as ways to learn and grow outside the classroom and enjoyed the gorgeous cottage that the program called home. Changing old traditions and vestiges of the past is difficult. But then, Katrina was a hurricane that devastated New Orleans in ways that many in America had never seen. New challenges require new, sometimes difficult, solutions. Scott Cowen made those choices in the Renewal Plan. While I understand the fight against the changes, I do not feel Tulane – from a student perspective – suffered for them. But then I only knew the “after” side of things.

********

In 2006, Cowen wrote:

For Tulane, Katrina has taught us to plan for the worst even as we pray for the best. It has taught us as an institution to stay focused on our mission and goals even in the face of financial and physical crisis. It has taught us the responsibility that comes with our role as the largest employer in our home city — a responsibility to help rebuild our city and heal its people.

I can only assume that it was this responsibility that spurred Cowen to found The Cowen Institute in late 2006 to benefit public education initiatives in New Orleans. I always loved how much Tulane stressed action in the community, and I appreciated being forced to interact outside the classroom in places and with people I may not have sought out on my own.

He leaves behind students – both current and graduated (me!) – who are grateful to him in some part for their success – even if they don’t know it yet. He brought Tulane back from what could have been a far-reaching, and long-term devastating event and he brought it back, to go all Thrones on you, harder and stronger.

My years at Tulane are without a doubt the best four years of my life. Words don’t do justice in describing the people I met, connections I forged, lessons I learned – both in and out of the classroom, and the friendships I now cherish from this wonderful institution. I stumbled into Tulane by chance but my decision to stay was deliberate. Since leaving, the school has flourished. Our rankings are far higher than when I initially chose Tulane – what my friends and I have come to call our choice to get in while the stocks were low – and we are now watching them soar. We’re very happy shareholders, to say the least. And as shareholders and former students, I just wanted to say thank you, Scotty C, for doing what you thought was right, doing it even if it was hard, and making strong once more a little campus in Uptown New Orleans that has nestled itself deep into many of our hearts.

Read the full text of President Scott Cowen’s letter below. (And for those of you without microscopic vision, I’d recommend giving it a click to enlarge it to readable size.)

cowenresign

NOLA food, how do I love (and miss) thee? Let me count the ways…

Check out the 38 essentials (according to Eater) that you must try when in the Big Easy. Dat Dog, Boucherie, Jacques-imo’s, St. James, Cochon, and Domilise’s (a Manning family favorite) clock in among my favorites.

…I like how I just named half the list as my “favorite.”

NOLA food, how do I love (and miss) thee? Let me count the ways…

Abita’s Back!

Yes faithful readers, the time has come – a bit earlier than I remembered – for that glorious taste of strawberry to shock your tastebuds into an alcoholic dream of bubbles, beer and berries. In other words, Abita Strawberry has returned. And just in time, too. Because honestly, what’s better than grabbing a cold one and sitting in the sun on a Wednesday, the air of Hump Day Happy Hour around you, as you bask in the fact that we are, in fact, living the dream. Sure, we may have classes, but it’s 60 degrees, sunny (“all you really need is a light jacket”) and I’m walking around in flip flops in January. Yeah, life is good down in good ol’ New Orleans.

“First Day of School!”

Fish and friends everywhere, it’s that time again: Day 1 of classes. And on this cold morning in New Orleans, I want nothing more than to pull up the covers, put on my hoodie and cuddle up for an in-home marathon of Vampire Diaries and trashy morning talk shows. I clearly don’t share Nemo’s enthusiam. *Sigh* I guess this means the vacation’s over…Happy First Day, Tulanians.

“First Day of School!”

PROST! (la la la la la)

Yes, readers, Oktoberfest. So you know this entry’s going to be….amusing. And not just any Oktoberfest. No, no, this fête de la biere was the 200th anniversary – and as far as I can tell, the Germans know how to throw a birthday party. I departed Aix with no real ideas of what to expect. Apart from Mardi Gras which utilized much more neon and spandex, I had never attended a European festival of binge drinking and lederhosen. And so other than the knowledge that pretzels come from Germany and the big beers are called steins (and 1 = about 5 regular beers), I set off on my Lufthansa flight to Munich with Audrey to my left and two free glasses of sparkling wine in each hand. Disclaimer: I did not ask for two glasses, our American excitement of the idea that drinks – let alone alcohol – was gratuit on a plane must’ve been obvious enough to warrant the, “you wanted another, right?” And who am I to say no to some good ol’ German hospitality?

We arrived in Munich to find our French cell phones worked only in France – go figure. But somehow managed to locate Sarah and, of course, have our first Oktoberfest beer in the Munich airport while we waited for Dana’s flight to arrive. Once all united, we set off for the Hostival. Yes, the name alone should’ve been a tip off. A youth hostel, at Oktoberfest, themed as a hospital and lovingly termed the Hangover Hospital.

If we didn’t realize we were in trouble then, we realized soon after entering the Munich night club district and walking “past the strip club, to the left, past the train (train!?), through the parking lot and under the over pass.” May as well wait in a dark alley with our wallets out. Let’s go! And so we did, the wheels of our bags crunching over the crumbling pavement and picking up god knows what as we plodded along the sketchy Munich streets to the soundtrack of Euro techno mixed with “Country Roads.” I was as surprised as you are. When we finally reached our hostel, I could not have been more rendered more speechless. The only words that came to mind were: “but of course this is our hostel.” The hostel was, in fact, a large white tent in the middle of a graffiti-ridden parking lot. We entered to find that this tent was unheated and the rooms were in fact sections of tent separated by bed sheets and themed as a hospital. Our unit, Family Planning, was located across from the ICU and next to the Abortion Clinic. Quelle chance! Pictures really don’t even do this place justice…

“Guys, we are all showering together” was my first reaction. One that, I thought, was completely warranted and logical – strength in numbers and all that. But considering those were the first words I spoke since basically departing the airport, my friends collectively decided that all these years of boys (and boy problems) were simply my way of saying, “Guys, I’m gay.” Go figure. And so us 5 weary travelers put the bed covers on our mattresses and hid our valises under our thin, scraggily excuses for blankets and did what any college students would do in this situation: went out for a drink.

The HB tent: my personal favorite and also the last place that we all saw our sobriety and dignity. If found, feel free to return.

But it was not until Saturday at a whopping 7:30am that the real festivities began. Clad in our jackets and high hopes, the 5 Tulanians set out for the Fest that we, being students of New Orleans, felt we had been made and trained for. We would soon learn that we were sadly mistaken. If this is starting to sound like an R.L. Stine “Goosebumps,” it’s right about now that I’m wishing I could choose another ending. But to continue, tents open at 9 and beer starts flowing at 10 – it was nice to see that there was some maintenance of classy drinking habits. Along with the beers, cheesy bread and pretzels were plentiful in the tents, as were men and women clad in Lederhosen and Drindles, both classic and modern. The ceilings were adorned with colors and tent name emblems lined the walls.

But above all: there were people, there were songs and there was beer. 

After meeting up with this crew and getting kicked out at 11am (that’s when the VIP reserved people got to go in) we managed to find, guess what, MORE TULANIANS along with lots of Germans, Italians and some very chatty Parisians!

Yes, it was a Tulane filled weekend in Munich. Most of you can probably recognize this sentiment, of walking into a bar – whether it be the Boot, Bruno’s, Rocco’s, F&M’s, you name it – and realizing with one look-around that you know 9.5 out of every 10 people in that bar. My statistics were so great at Oktoberfest, but there was one moment, while standing with my new German friend Linus on a table at Hofbrau tent, that I looked around and had that feeling that I was surrounded by people who I knew. And it was true! To my right was Linus (sans blanket but nonetheless awesome), to my left Dana and Christina, across the table: Audrey and (if memory serves) Sam Glidden and Scotty Jospin made an appearance, all while Trent and I prost-ed across the table and swayed to the sounds of the music that threatened to get so loud that the entire tent could burst with joy and musical notes at any moment!

It’s a strange feeling, the sentiment of feeling home simply by being around people who have a love for the same place as you do. But this had to be my favorite moment of Oktoberfest. Sure, there were other memories – stories of what you did the night before count as memories right? – And plenty of one-liners that defined the weekend, but as I sat on the plane coming home I couldn’t help but think of how that feeling of home manages to sneak up on you at the strangest of times in the strangest of places. That, and how bad I felt for the man sitting next to me who could clearly tell that just the sight of his free-on-Lufthansa beer made me want to throw up. All in all, this weekend was one of the most amazing, trying, intense, fun, beer-filled weekends of my life – and for anyone who’s been to Mardi Gras, you know that’s saying something. Also for anyone who has seen me during one of my “This-is-by-far-my-worst-hangover-ever” mornings, of which there have been a few (ah-hem Halloween, November Rain), I am serious when I say that this one was by far the worst. Enough so that it is officially Sober Oktober for me. Mom and Dad, I can hear your cheers from across the pond.

When I returned to Aix late Monday night after, probably the longest day of my life, my only answer to the question of “how was it!?” was: “I am so glad I went and it was amazing, but I never want to do that again.” This was followed by many stories, including the death of my Blackberry (I’m still in mourning) and Dana’s decision to become a Woman’s Rights major in Germany while living only off of chicken and pretzels. Stories of crazy Italians, random twin brothers, something about a mayonnaise fight and how I, apparently, am casting the fifth Twilight. (Men on the street in Munich, I’m sorry but the growling just didn’t cut it. Maybe next time.) Needless to say, the final scoreboard read: Ali – 0, Oktoberfest – 100,000 and I’m still here marveling over the fact that I can make it through 2 Mardi Gras with no phone issues but one night of rain in Munich can drive my Blackberry to suicide. Correction: Oktoberfest – 100,001. Well, until next time, Prost!

Ya can’t stuff the notes back in Louis Armstrong’s trumpet

“Crime? Yes, it thrives along with the magic. Festering wounds? Sure, but tour-bus outings to the still-devastated Ninth Ward stop at grassroots home-building initiatives such as the Musicians’ Village and the Brad Pitt-led Make It Right project. Not rebuild the country’s most distinctive cultural scene? You might as well try to stuff the notes back into Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.”

-Jerry Shriver, Town&Country. August 2010.

Since when did Move-In Day become something I’m jealous of?

With half of my friends going abroad, and half of my friends staying in New Orleans it’s easy to see why I would feel torn between France and it’s old colonial territory of Nouvelle Orleans – isn’t it? My feelings of regret for exploring the world are shared with many of my friends – some of whom have left and others of whom are still trying to fit just one more pair of shoes into an already about-to-explode suitcase. International Brat Syndrome, as we have termed it, is best characterized by feelings of self-pity, frequent visits to “MyTulane” and an almost constant repetition of the phrase: ‘do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?’ on almost every social networking site known to the college population.

It’s clearly a testament to Tulane that I would feel pangs of jealousy even at the thought of moving stranger’s boxes up Monroe’s 12 floors, by foot, in 98 degree New Orleans heat, just to be side by side with my New Orleans crew. In fact, until now, Move-In Day has never sounded so good – and that’s saying something, considering last year I got a drawer full of free Tulane t-shirts.

The only word to describe this feeling – about to embark on a 5 month voyage into French society – is bittersweet. Someone once said that “where ever you go, there you are.” And there is validity to that. But I can’t help but think that while I may be only physically in one place, my heart can be in many. And while New York will always have a piece of it, New Orleans and Tulane have more than earned the piece of me that I’m leaving there this Fall. Still, I am more than excited to get to France and spend the next 5 amazing months of my Junior year as a resident of it’s countryside. I’m so excited that I feel like I am an embodiment of my packed-to-the-brim suitcase: about to burst at the seams but trying to fit just a little bit more in everyday.

(Our attempt to spell “TULANE” really fell apart at the “N”…)