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, really never gave it a second thought.
In preparation for Hurricane Irma’s visit, Dean 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. So, they stayed in a nearby shelter. Dean 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,” says Dr. Gary. “I felt it was our duty to provide them with that extra security they needed during this turbulent time.”
Dr. Gary, as well as Vernon Martin, the Associate Director of Residential Education, and Michael Matos, a Residence Hall Director, determined they would also accompany FMU’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, thru the floods, and doing whatever was needed. It was a ‘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.”
Dean Gary could have easily secured a space at the shelter for his students, and then left to join his wife and son who headed for Atlanta a few days earlier. The same scenario applies to Martin, who is also married and Matos who has two children. But they all elected to ride out the storm with their students. Clearly, their commitment to the safety and welfare of the students at FMU took precedent over everything else.
“These dedicated men truly embodied the very essence of leadership and compassion,” said Interim President, Dr. Michelle Howard-Vital. “We are ever so grateful for their effort and commitment to go above and beyond for our students.”