Gavin Burl has come a long way since being displaced from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to becoming the president of East Central University’s Student Government.
As a member of Pi Sigma Alpha, a political science academic honor society, the senior from Sachse, Texas recently traveled with 12 other ECU students and three faculty members to Washington D.C. to not only attend the Pi Sigma Alpha National Conference, but to do a special internship with the President Barack Obama Foundation. To boot, he along with fellow ECU student Anna Wood were the only two students able to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to observe oral arguments on “clerical issues on sentencing.”
Taking part as a short-term intern with the Obama Foundation was described as a surreal experience by Burl.
“I remember in the seventh grade and watching the Obama Inauguration. I was probably 11 or 12 years old,” said Burl. “For someone like me, it made it an impression. I knew this (public service) is what I wanted to do.”
While at the Obama Foundation, members visited with Burl about leadership skills and how they have been handling Obama’s post-presidential projects, involving philanthropy and community programs.
“They were interested to know me and my future plans, about ECU and my story and how I grew up,” Burl said. “First, I talked about Hurricane Katrina and how I was displaced from New Orleans, then I got to explain how East Central has impacted my life and how I became a leader.”
In addition to his Supreme Court visit, he and the other ECU students visited and spoke with U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, who represents the Fourth District of Oklahoma.
Burl, who played football at ECU as a freshman and sophomore, saw his playing days cut short due to injury. He says the university has shaped his desire to strive for more.
“I learned to never give up and I was pushed to be open to more opportunities,” said Burl. “Dr. (Christine) Pappas told me to stick it out and get some leadership opportunities.”
In which he promptly did. As a junior, he served as vice president of both the Student Government and Pi Sigma Alpha.
“It has helped me understand my impact as a student,” Burl said. “As for problem-solving skills, ECU has heavily contributed to that.”
Burl remembers well his evacuation from the “Big Easy” to the Dallas-Fort Worth area as an 8 or 9-year old with his mother (Tanjala) and father (Earl) along with his older brother Earl III and younger brother Chase.
“We were evacuating in an SUV. There was a lot of traffic,” said Burl. “What usually took a 7 1/2 -8-hour drive, turned out to be about a 14-hour trip. There was a lot of traffic going west toward Dallas. We stayed in a hotel three months and I remember my parents watching CNN to know the situation in New Orleans. We took clothes and some toys, including my Batman action figure, anything we could fit in the SUV.”
Burl says he felt like his life was on reset once he and his family settled in the Dallas suburb of Rowlett, Texas. Burl says his father Earl makes frequent trips back to New Orleans and has relatives who stayed there through the storm and after.
NOTE: Burl learned recently that he has been admitted to the University of Tulsa College of Law and will begin his journey toward a law degree this fall.