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As she took to the podium at the Outstanding Alumni Reception, alumna Claire Babineaux-Fontenot reflected on her journey as a proud graduate from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
The 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient has had an illustrious career since she walked the halls of campus. Babineaux-Fontenot currently leads Feeding America as their chief executive officer. The organization has helped provide 5.2 billion meals to millions of people facing food insecurity in the last year alone. It’s also the second largest U.S. charity, with a network of more than 200 food banks and over 60,000 partner agencies, food pantries and meal programs.
Surrounded by a sea of supporters and friends, Babineaux-Fontenot began her address by reminiscing on the lessons she’s learned from those most important to her — her family. “I learned that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. I learned that when you believe in people, they tend to rise up to your expectations. I learned to give people an opportunity to show their goodness. I learned those things growing up in our home, and I learned those things growing up in Acadiana,” she said.
Even though her parents didn’t have the privilege of graduating from high school, Babineaux-Fontenot was exposed to the possibilities of higher education through her sister, who attended UL Lafayette, then the University of Southwestern Louisiana. She recalls driving with her mother to campus to wait for her sister to finish classes for the day. During those drives, she saw what the University had to offer and began to dream about what her life might look like if one day she followed in her sister’s footsteps as a Ragin’ Cajun.
She took that leap of faith and gained so much from her time at the University — including meeting the love of her life. “Without the University, I wouldn’t have met him. Without him, I wouldn’t have my children. UL Lafayette truly changed my life,” she said.
Her story isn’t exempt from obstacles. In 2015, Babineaux-Fontenot was diagnosed with breast cancer after a routine physical exam. Through the help of exceptional medical care, she became a cancer survivor. However, the experience changed her perspective on life completely. “My breast cancer reminded me of how finite I was. It reminded me that I don’t get always — none of us do. But I get right now,” she said.
At the conclusion of her speech, Babineaux-Fontenot thanked the University and the Alumni Association for this outstanding honor. “The best way I believe that I can show I’m truly humbled and honored by this distinction is to continue to try my best, to try harder, to do more and to be better,” she said.
Main Photo Caption: Claire Babineaux-Fontenot addresses the attendees at the 2023 Outstanding Alumni Award Reception on October 18. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas/UL Lafayette) Story Photo Captions – Left: Babineaux-Fontenot shows her UL Lafayette pride after a Coffee Talk with students, hosted by the Alumni Association. (Photo credit: Courtney Bergeron/UL Lafayette) Right: Babineaux-Fontenot, a survivor of breast cancer, wore a bright pink dress to her reception in October as recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month. (Photo credit: Doug Dugas/UL Lafayette)