HATTIESBURG, MS (WLOX) - For the first time since Sunday's tornado damaged the campus, students returned to the University of Southern Mississippi Wednesday. Many were shocked by what they saw. But that did not deter their mission to clean up the mess left behind by Mother Nature.
Before any work could begin, students had to sign up and be assigned an area to clean. Hundreds of them did for their own reasons.
"It's all about bringing Southern Miss to the top," Chilevin Jones said. "We're a school of community and we're about passion and we're get back on track. We've been hit, but we won't stay down for long."
Then an impromptu pep rally from new USM President Dr. Rodney Bennett, who chanted "To the top!" That got everyone in the mood to get their hands dirty, including Brennan James.
"Well, I just wanted to help out my school," James said. "It's not going to get done by itself, so somebody's got to do it. It's great that all these students came out."
Seeing the damage on campus left an impression on Devin Smith.
"It makes you sad, in a sense, but I still feel like it's going to be bigger and better, especially with everybody coming out and helping like they are right now," Smith said.
Student Brooke McCray echoed those thoughts.
"It's just really unbelievable, you know, to see this university. This is my third year as a Southern Miss student and it just looks so different and a different atmosphere. I want to be here to just get it back to what it was," McCray said.
Of course, at any major university, the main stakeholders are the students. And that's why this university's new president said this program, this clean up was all about them.
"We have had students calling since the events of Sunday evening asking how they could help and participate," Bennett said. "They really wanted to do something and I think it shows great school spirit and great school pride."
Classes resume Thursday at USM. Since several fine arts buildings were damaged by the twister, those students will be relocated to other classrooms on campus.