"Though there are things you have lost, you are gaining a valuable shared experience," one former student said

By Jason Duaine Hahn
May 07, 2020 11:04 AM
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Former high school classmates who lived through Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana banded together to send a message of hope to the class of 2020, whose members found their senior year abruptly ended by the coronavirus pandemic.

Students from the 2006 class of Metairie Park Country Day School in New Orleans offered inspiring words to the school's current class of students in a video uploaded to the school's Facebook page on April 28.

"Our class truly understands some of the emotions that these Seniors are experiencing," alumnus Heidi Heumann Saporito, who helped organize the massive effort amid social distancing, tells PEOPLE. "Rather than dwell on the negatives that accompany this unprecedented global pandemic, we wanted to focus on some positives and provide words of encouragement."

Heumann Saporito, 32, says her classmates have remained close since the storm hit, and in the video, the group focused on the growth they experienced in the nightmare aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the state on Aug. 29, 2005.

"Though there are things you have lost, you are gaining a valuable shared experience," one female graduate said. "Our class after Hurricane Katrina bonded in a way that we might have not otherwise. We really understood the value of our community when we couldn't see each other's faces every day."

"We have both been impacted in different spans of time, by once-in-a-lifetime catastrophic events, that have really disrupted and completely changed the trajectory of what was to be the most anticipated year of our life," added another of the grads.

Katrina made landfall as a category 3 storm with winds reaching 127 mph. It caused flooding throughout the state, but the failure of levees in New Orleans caused tremendous destruction across the city.

In all, Louisiana saw 1,577 deaths attributed to the storm. Later analysis of more than 970 of these deaths found 40 percent of them were caused by drowning, according to a study published in the Disaster Medicine and Public Health Preparedness journal.

"The hurricane hit about a week into our senior year. Within about 48 hours, the whole school was scattered all across the country," one of the graduates said in the video. "Some of us did not come back until January, which was four months later, and others did not come back that school year."

"We encourage them to keep in touch and support one another... even though it may not be a handshake or a hug for the time being," Heumann Saporito tells PEOPLE. "Country Day is a place that offers not only an incredible educational experience but also a community with rich traditions and relationships."

"Hurricane Katrina is proof to the entire country how resilient the City of New Orleans is," she adds. "The Class of 2020 is also resilient, and we want them to realize that although they may not see it right now, this adversity will help them succeed in future pursuits."

As of Thursday morning, Louisiana has seen 30,399 cases and 2,094 deaths attributed to coronavirus, according to a New York Times database. New Orleans alone accounts for 6,608 cases and 464 deaths.

In all, the U.S. has seen more than 1.2 million cases and 73,549 deaths.

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