Unicorns facing Hurricane Florence together

As Hurricane Florence threatens North Carolina, Unicorns on campus and across the state — even ones who have never met before — are facing the crisis as a family.

“Almost all of my teachers have told me if I need anything to text them,” said Feodor Mejouev, a junior residential student who is staying on campus because his home is in Wilmington and at risk from the storm. “I looked at the flood maps, and the water is supposed to come right up to my house. I don’t know what’s going to happen. My chorus teacher, Mr. (David) Stuntz, told me that even if it was already raining I could still text him.”

The helping hand extended statewide, as Heather Tupper Heiser posted on the Parents of NCSSM Students, Past, Present & Future Facebook group: “Please, Unicorn families on the coast, post here if there is anything you need: housing, places for pets, transportation for students. Not sure I can think of everything, but would like you to know, we would all like to help.”

Eileen Stephens responded, “We have extra beds if someone needs shelter,” and Jill Conway added, “We have extra beds in Charlotte if needed.”

With classes canceled Thursday and no effects yet from the storm besides an overcast sky, the mood among students on campus was upbeat. Many said they felt the warmth and kindness of community as the storm approached — and they appreciated having unscheduled time. Hadley Blalock, a residential senior, estimated Thursday afternoon that about half of students on her floor remained on campus. 

“Those of us on higher floors have offered to host people on lower floors in case it floods,” the Fourth Bryan resident said as she sat with a group of other senior girls working on their laptops in a library study room. “With classes canceled, daytime is for homework now, and evenings are for chilling.”

Tessa Mannell agreed, calling it “very peaceful” on campus, as she looked up from her application essay for the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “If the cafeteria staff can’t come in, our community coordinators have told us they are ready to run the cafeteria.” (Community coordinator is the new term for school staff members formerly known as student life instructors.)

Seniors Angelina Katsanis (working on her Robertson Scholars application) and Tova Just noted that art teacher Carrie Alter had gone out to get herself a sandwich for lunch and returned with a huge pizza she told them to share with everyone on their hall. “Plus,” said Angelina, “Our CC Lauren Morris took us on a food run yesterday.”

Sellers Hill, a junior working at a library table with Katsanis, added, “If someone’s roommate has left, people are inviting that person to stay in their room so they don’t have to be by themselves.” Also from Wilmington, Hill said he was banking on the hope that the city would not be hit as hard as predicted by the storm.

The CCs have organized a movie night in the Eilber Physical Education Center for Thursday night, said Sue Anne Lewis, service learning coordinator. 

“We’re going to show a movie, probably a cartoon, and serve popcorn from the concession stand,” she said. “They can all bring their blankets and stretch out and relax on the floor.” Lewis’ 4-year-old daughter, Garrecyn, whose relationship with NCSSM students is one of mutual delight, was planning to join the party. 

Taylor Parsons, a CC on First Hill, sent an email to students Thursday afternoon with a long list of fun activities scheduled throughout the weekend: Outdoor volleyball and a basketball free-throw knockout contest before the rain starts, trivia in the courtyard, board games in the Woolworth Room, Nintendo Switch in the student center, and afternoon movies in the lecture hall.

Olivia Fugikawa, a junior from Durham, said she was appreciating the extra time outside of class. “I have a couple of robotics projects I’m working on, and I figured this would be a good time to do it.”

At the moment, though, she was playing ping pong in the ground floor lounge of the Educational Technology Complex with Kevin Clatfelter, also a junior.

“It’s really strange,” he mused. “This is not what I expected to be going through during my first month here. But so far, it’s really fun. On my hall, if the power goes out, we’re planning to build a roller coaster for marbles.”

Olivia tagged on, “It’s good for hall bonding!”

Facilities staffers cleaned out storm drains and tested generators and sump pumps. Dining services team members planned for meals that can be served even if power is lost. Library Director Robin Boltz said staffers Lacey Hudspeth and Keith Beisner on her team both agreed to give up their days off to come in to campus and keep the library open for students through the weekend.

Parents expressed appreciation. Anyés Laporte Clark posted on the NCSSM Facebook page, “Parents of kids who are staying at NCSSM during the storm, when this is all over, we need to do something to thank this dedicated staff and administrators! Throw them a huge lunch, gather gift cards for them, flood their email with thank yous.” The post got likes and loves in reply and a “Completely agree!” from Shobha Shekhar.

““We just have a number of employees who step up and come in and keep a lot of areas operating,” commented Vice Chancellor for Student Life Terry Lynch, who also praised students and parents. “People have been extremely flexible and kind and patient, knowing we don’t have a lot of control over the weather.”

Sometimes adversity can offer us a mirror, he said: “We have a lot of folks who care a lot about this place, and about the students, and about each other. It’s always like that; a storm like this just really puts a spotlight on it.”

Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement Brock Winslow ’86 spoke for many, saying, “Right now, members of the Unicorn family directly in the path of the storm are in our thoughts. Please take care and stay safe.”