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First-gen graduate Claire Babineaux-Fontenot's journey to becoming one of TIME's Most Influential People

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Written by Ashley McClure

UL Lafayette alumna Claire Babineaux-Fontenot is the chief executive officer of Feeding America, a nationwide hunger-relief network. At UL Lafayette’s Fall 2019 commencement ceremony, she spoke about her early experiences that led her to where she is today.

“As a starry-eyed little girl, I distinctly recall a conversation that I had with my father,” she said. “I shared with him that one day I would grow up to be a lawyer. ‘I’m sure you're going to do that Claire,’ he said. It was only as an adult that I tried to process what must have been going through my father's mind at the moment that I made that declaration so many years ago.”

Claire’s parents were her inspiration. Though neither of her parents graduated high school, they found a way to make an impact.

“In the Fall of 1963, while my mother was pregnant with me, she learned about two little children in Broussard,” she said. “She took those babies home and neither she nor my father ever imagined that they had embarked upon the journey that will culminate in them being mom and dad to over 100 children.”

Coming from this large working-class family, Claire’s options for college were limited. UL Lafayette not only provided a reasonable tuition, but also transportation to and from campus.Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot speaking to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette graduating class

“Because of the excellent education that I received here at UL, I stand before you a first-generation college graduate and a first-generation law graduate,” she said.

After she graduated from UL Lafayette with her bachelor's in criminal justice, Claire received a juris doctorate from Southern University Law Center and a Master of Laws in taxation from Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law.

Claire has worked in dispute resolution practice, the Office of Legal Affairs for the state of Louisiana, and she worked for Walmart’s leadership team for 13 years. Since 2018, though, Claire has worked to improve food security across the nation with Feeding America.

Because of her efforts with the organization during the COVID-19 pandemic, Claire was named to TIME’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020 list and she was interviewed by the New York Times.

In her Commencement address, Claire urged action from the graduating class.

“Your generation is poised to be the largest, most diverse, most educated generation the world has ever known,” she said. “We need you to use your heads, your hands, your hearts, your feet and your voices to make this world — our world – better.

“I’ve seen and felt your power. You can be the change we wish to see,” she said. “I’m optimistic about where we will go together. We're counting on you to continue to push for what's right especially when it's hard. It may sound a bit cliché, but one person really can make a difference in the world.”

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