Kendall Ladner came to Biloxi last July carrying a cell phone, and a backpack.
"It was a lot more than that," Ladner said, referring to the expecations he also brought with him. "I packed up my life in Baton Rouge and moved down here to the coast to get into this program and to work for the Hard Rock."
Katrina destroyed the Hard Rock's barge. But it didn't stop Ladner's ultimate pursuit.
"The hopes are so high for me," he said, "I would rather stay and go through it and see what I could do with it."
Ladner is one of three dozen students who stayed in Tulane's Casino Resort Management program at Edgewater Mall, even though the hurricane washed away potential jobs.
Sandra Edwards is a month away from getting her diploma, and expanding her casino industry horizons.
"I'm very optimistic," she said, "because what we learned here at Tulane, we can take it to any gaming jurisdiction in the world."
A bartender sitting next to Edwards understands that need to be flexible, to be willing to move almost anywhere to land a management job in the industry. But that's not exactly why Dustin Gates took casino management courses in Biloxi. Gates is from the coast. So his ultimate goal is to run a casino in his hometown. However, Katrina forced Gates to come up with a fallback plan.
"I still have casino resort management as my major," he said. "But I'm also pursuing another degree, just in case something were to happen, I wouldn't have to worry about picking up and leaving the coast where all of my family is."
The three students who sat down with us all have big dreams. The men see themselves running a resort someday. Sandra Edwards would like to own a casino. Despite a wicked hurricane that snuffed out many of their initial options, they're determined to put their management training to good use.
Tulane's first casino resort management class will have four graduates. They get their diplomas May 13 in New Orleans.