Resilience, hope and excitement were on full display Monday morning as students returned to class at the FSU Panama City campus for the first time after Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle earlier this month.
They were beaming — even those who lost their homes — at the prospect of class and some return to normalcy.
“You can feel the energy,” said Randy Hanna, dean of FSU Panama City. “Folks are excited to be back.”
FSU President John Thrasher and several vice presidents joined Hanna in welcoming students and faculty back to campus and reassuring students that the administration is there to help them succeed and move forward.
During the visit, Thrasher spoke to a room of faculty members, where he commended them for their efforts in making the best of a bad situation.
“The students are appreciative of what you’ve done here,” Thrasher said. “They are happy to get back to class, and they know how much it means. They’re able to take their minds off of what happened by getting back to what they know. You are making that happen for them by getting this place back open.”
Hanna credits the phenomenal teamwork and great collaboration between university administrators and staff in Panama City and Tallahassee for getting the FSU Panama City campus back up-and-running so quickly.
The day after Michael make landfall, administrators from Tallahassee flew by helicopter to Panama City to inspect the damage. Plans were immediately set in motion to make repairs, clear away debris and dry out buildings — all with the goal of reopening campus as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, advisers, counselors and Student Affairs staff were available to help Panama City students with a variety of needs — from dealing with the trauma of losing a home to questions regarding classes and advising.
Graduate student Justine Powell, president of the FSUPC Student Government Council, is thankful for the hard work of faculty, staff and administrators to reopen campus.
“Every single one of them is truly incredible,” Powell said. “I love that everyone is working together. They all know what we’re going through because they went through it themselves.”
Powell said that returning to classes at FSU Panama City is a big relief.
“We’ve been so focused on rebuilding and picking up the pieces,” she said. “This is a little break where our minds can get to think about something else.”
Senior electrical engineering major Tasneem Salaman has talked to people in the hard-hit Panama City area who have lost their homes, jobs, and even their clothing. She said reopening the FSU Panama City campus gives everyone a renewed sense of security.
“It’s very exciting to have classes to go to and material to study. The past three weeks have been three weeks of pure emptiness,” Salaman said.
Michael Kirke, a junior electrical engineering major, is grateful for the university’s support as the entire area recovers from the most devastating storm to ever hit the area.
“All of our professors are working with us, and it’s very comforting to know that we have a university standing behind us and trying to get us through this,” Kirke said. “It means a lot to me as a student and a lot to everyone else here on campus. We’re very thankful that the university is stepping forward to help us.”
In the atrium of the Holley Academic Center, tables are set up for students to get more information on a multitude of topics, such as applying for FEMA and the Seminole Emergency Relief Fund.
University officials are working to get food services back by Wednesday and expect the library to open early this week.