11 years at the Capstone

Like so many other students who will proudly walk across The University of Alabama graduation stage, I am thrilled to take my next steps, reflective on the experience of our individual formative journeys and a little terrified to leave this place.

After 11 academic years and nearly as many summers at the Capstone, I will graduate in August and, finally, be Dr. Fuentes. While there is still some writing and revising to complete my dissertation, I can assure you (and my anxious family) that I will, in fact, finish by the June deadline to cross the graduation stage in August. (My brother and sister-in-law are working on teaching their toddler to call me “Dr. Aunt Michelle.”) In the fall, I will be teaching and living in a new academic community at a beautiful boarding school in a picturesque lakeside village in Indiana. While a little apprehensive about the forthcoming winter weather, my horse, Yvette, and I are ready to take on the new challenge of creating a new home, making new friends and starting a career rooted in meaningful work preparing high school students to set out on their own journeys toward higher education. It is going to be a brilliant adventure.

I arrived at the Capstone in August of 2003, bright-eyed, very excited and full of “Roll Tide” spirit direct from California. My first year, and this was prior to the heavy recruiting that now happens in California, I wore crimson no fewer than three days a week to ensure that I was doing my part to support our Crimson Tide family. My freshman year roommates and I had a dedicated “spirit wall” in our suite in the Blount Living-Learning Center, complete with shakers and the fight song lyrics. Like finding my first best friend in my Bama Bound orientation roommate, Alabama has been and continues to be a place where I experience so many formative firsts. In fact, I dare to say that this place is designed to create firsts for us, the students.

Like a good country song, this holy ground is where I drank my first beer, pulled my first all-nighter, found best friends, experienced euphoric joy and met profound grief. This is the place where I learned how to rock out to country music and how to balance my checkbook. I fell in love and thought it was an all-consuming forever love. This is where I found, for the first time, that it wasn’t. I was taught to organize and lead others to accomplish goals as a team. I expanded my immediate family for the first time and committed myself to a leggy equine brunette named Yvette. I saw difference, racism, sexism, speciesism and empowered students working, in the best way we knew, for positive change. For the first time, I found my voice and raised my fist for justice in peaceful protest and turned radical thoughts into coherent academic theories. I watched my first students grapple with really tough questions and fell in love with the looks on their faces when they discovered their own answers.

All of these firsts make up so much of me that I don’t know where Alabama ends and I begin. The past 11 years have created the most beautiful entanglement, forming and shaping me into an individual I couldn’t have dreamt of in 2003. For this, I am forever thankful to the thousands of professionals, staff members and students who make this place and this space for growth possible. Thank you for preparing me and so many of my peers for our next adventures.

Michelle Fuentes will graduate in August with her Ph. D. in political theory. Michelle serves as the Community Director of the Blount Living Learning Center and as a Blount Jr. Fellow.

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