SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER
It was never a part of his job description, but Dr. Michael Gary, the assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Florida Memorial University (FMU), really never gave it a second thought.
In preparation for Hurricane Irma’s visit, Gary and members of the FMU faculty and staff were busy getting students off campus and back to their homes safely. But some of the students did not have time or resources to return home and ride out the storm.
Wouldn’t leave them
So, they stayed in a nearby shelter. Gary did not feel comfortable leaving his students there alone. And instead of heading to his own home, he opted to bunker down and stay with them.
“We made a promise to the parents and families who entrust their loved ones with us that we will guard, guide and educate them to the best of our ability,” Gary said. “I felt it was our duty to provide them with that extra security they needed during this turbulent time.”
Gary, as well as Vernon Martin, the associate director of Residential Education, and Michael Matos, a residence hall director, determined they would also accompany the Miami Gardens university’s seven young men and seven young women at the shelter.
For many, it was their first time experiencing a hurricane, and the first time ever in a shelter.
“It was a unique and humbling experience,” recalls Gary. “We helped with everything – from offering our cots to the elderly and sick, to assisting with serving the meals and handing out water. We weathered the storm to get the food and water in the shelter, walking in the rain, through the floods, and doing whatever was needed.
He added, “It was an all-hands-on-deck type of situation. But there was a sense of gratitude and appreciation too as everyone was coming together to help comfort and support each other – such efforts of basic human kindness at its best.”
Lauded by president
Gary decided to stay at the shelter instead of leaving to join his wife and son who headed for Atlanta a few days earlier. The same scenario applied to Martin, who is also married and Matos, who has two children. But they all elected to ride out the storm with their students.
“These dedicated men truly embodied the very essence of leadership and compassion,” said Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital, FMU’s interim president. “We are ever so grateful for their effort and commitment to go above and beyond for our students.”
The university reopened on Monday.