JACKSON, Tenn. – Sept. 5, 2008 – Kevin and Marta Walker, evacuees from Houma, La., don’t know for sure the condition of their hurricane-battered house.
They know a tree has fallen on a shed in their yard, and that their street is littered with fallen trees and power lines.
“We just found out that we have some roof damage, that we’re probably going to have to replace our roof,” Marta said. “That’s all we know so far.”
They left their home on Saturday for the trek northward and have stayed with friends in Memphis since then. But to the Walkers, getting their son Brandon – a freshman – to Union University was more important than the condition of their house.
“That was the one priority this week – making sure Brandon got to campus on time and OK,” Kevin said.
Brandon is one of more than 450 freshmen who moved onto the Union campus Sept. 4. Scores of upperclassmen, faculty and staff were on hand to help the freshmen unpack their vehicles and get settled into their new home.
“I’m excited. I’ve been counting down for the last 100 days,” said Lacey Hampton, a freshman from Adamsville, Tenn. “I had a countdown on my wall. I can’t wait to start meeting people and start getting involved here.”
Most of the freshmen are living in the Heritage Residential Complex, but a few – including Hampton – are in the new residential complexes built to replace the old housing units destroyed by the tornado Feb. 5. Hampton remembers watching the reports of the tornado on the news.
“I already knew people who went here, and I was really concerned,” she said. “But God just showed up in such an amazing way. I knew that I was supposed to be at Union, regardless of what kind of dorms there were going to be. But this is a nice bonus.”
Union University President David S. Dockery welcomed the new students during an afternoon meeting and updated them about the rebuilding process on campus.
“It’s a new day at Union University,” Dockery said. “To look back upon the last seven months, I don’t think anyone could have imagined that we would be where we are today. But God in his amazing providence has sustained us, and by his grace we have moved forward each and every day.
“What could have been an event that wiped this campus out – we came within an eyelash of disaster – has resulted in the complete restoration of so much of the campus,” he said.
Dockery noted that although enrollment figures won’t be official for a few more days, the 2008-2009 year with be the 11th straight with an enrollment increase. Last year’s fall enrollment was 3,310, and Dockery said the university is projecting a fall enrollment this year of more than 3,400.
He also said that this year’s freshman class has the highest academic profile of any class in Union history, with 10 National Merit finalists in the class.
After a day of unpacking, the new students and their families gathered in the G.M. Savage Memorial Chapel for a specially-designed worship service. Greg Thornbury, dean of the School of Christian Studies, challenged the students to seize the educational opportunity before them to fulfill God’s design for their lives.
“You were created to be holy. You were created to be wise,” Thornbury said. “You were made to find your place in the kingdom of the heavens, and God has brought you here.”
A Union tradition completed the service. Incoming students sat in the middle of the chapel, while parents, returning students and Union faculty and staff encircled them. Dockery then led in prayer for students and their families.