Reclaiming a Katrina loss

Michael Riemer gets his lost diploma back

Michael Riemer gets his lost diploma back

Here are my remarks from our Middle School assembly at which I presented Michael Riemer with his high school diploma to replace the one lost in Katrina. I was overcome with emotion and had to stop several times to gather my composure.

I wanted to take a moment to speak to you all about friendship and memory. Friendship is special. It doesn’t take up any space, it doesn’t weigh anything, it is completely free, but its presence can be undeniably felt, and it can last forever. Memory too is a powerful thing; though our lives are filled with loss, memory can prevail and remain strong after days turn to weeks and years into decades. Some of life’s moments are so indelibly burned into our minds that that they can never be lost or forgotten. Let me take you back to a powerful memory of a special event.

The day was Monday, June 5, 1961. It was a sticky 85 degrees in New Orleans, and heavy, humid air lay over the city. But the air in the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium was mercifully cool. And it was a special day. That night, a crowd of 450 high school seniors in blue robes fidgeted nervously as they awaited recognition for their young lives’ greatest accomplishment. It was graduation day!

At the podium, one of the honor graduates spoke to his classmates on the topic: “Changeless Values in a Changing World.” But it was hard to concentrate; the air was electric with the alternating currents of the excitement of a job well done and hope for the future. One boy, sitting toward the back of his alphabetically arranged class, smiled as his friends ahead of him received their diplomas, the tangible symbol of their accomplishment. They were done with school and a crowd of countless tomorrows stretched out before them – summer, college, their whole lives.

As their names were called, the students filed across the stage with heads held high, surveying the throng of family and friends that were assembled to share their joy and visions of success.riemer1

While our memories can never be taken from us, sometimes our precious mementos can. When the flood waters of Katrina destroyed the home of our beloved Middle School Dean of Students Michael Riemer, they also took from him many of his possessions, including his high school diploma. But through the diligent work of his lifelong friend Norman Hellmers, his diploma from Francis T. Nicholls High School has been recreated. Mr. Hellmers asked me to present it to him here today.

Mr. Hellmers writes: “Mike and I went through elementary and high school together and we were roommates in college. As a lifelong friend of Mike’s, I could never do enough for him, but I always hope that small gestures like this will let him know that he is loved and admired, not just by me, but by all of those whose lives he has touched over so many years.”

We are honored and touched by the fact that Mr. Riemer chose to be a member of the Newman family. It is with great honor and joy that we ask Michael Bertrand Riemer to walk across the stage for a second time to receive his high school diploma.


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