It does not begin or end with me

Brooke J. Freundschuh, Editor-in-Chief

I’ve given a lot of thought to what I’d one day write in my last issue of The Flor-Ala, and I can’t believe it’s already time. Maybe everyone feels this way, but I feel that my time at UNA has been unique and transformative, not only for me, but for UNA. By looks, this is not the same university I toured and committed to in February 2019, three months before I graduated high school, when I was really late picking a college.

In my time at UNA, the fountain, the University’s most recognizable and beloved symbol, fell apart and was rebuilt. One of our two live lion mascots, Una, passed away. The COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world and our small community. My freshman year was cut two months short. I packed up my dorm in a day and never lived on campus again. I remember interviewing former Vice President, Dr. Kimberly Greenway, about the phased approach to restoring campus to normalcy through the COVID-19 task force. I thought college as I knew it was over. We would never make it to the final phases of the plan. Yet, I recently watched hundreds and hundreds of people packed shoulder to shoulder around the new fountain, dancing and watching fireworks at this year’s Light The Fountain celebration. Online classes and two week quarantine periods and completing wellness checks every day before coming to campus and masks turned back into tailgates and spring concerts and tables lining the GUC. Such is life. 

I used to walk the bridge connecting the parking deck to the parking lot by Stephens Hall and look down at the dirt and beams that transformed into what is now the Harrison Nursing Building. We thought the construction would never be complete, especially after COVID. Now, it’s a regular part of campus. I’d cross the parking lot and go to math class in the hot, stuffy, strip-mall style Math Building that is now long gone with the parking lot that was once there. Future lions will never know, but they’ll have something much better. I remember staring in awe at the books that lined the wall of the Center for Women’s Studies that once sat across from the Student Publications Building. That little orange house was so cozy and safe. I still expect to see it when I walk out there sometimes.

UNA has fully transitioned into Division I athletics. The building formerly known as Bibb Graves Hall was renamed to usher in “a more inclusive era” for a state school intermingled with the long-reigning systemic racism in the south. A former editor of this paper reported a story that allowed women to tell their stories about being raped on campus. There were riots and protests.

When I tell of these events, all of which I had a front-row seat to as a part of The Flor-Ala, it feels like a lifetime has gone by, but then I remember: this has only been four years of my life. This has only been four years of UNA’s lifetime, one that is nearing its 200th year. I had the privilege of capturing and preserving some of these moments in a newspaper that’s nearing its 100th year of publication. It has been my greatest honor to be your editor-in-chief.

I would be blind not to acknowledge that the fairness and accuracy of what is reported in this paper has been questioned time and time again. I, myself, have lost trust in people who have been associated with this publication. My message to UNA students, past, present and future is that I encourage you to remember: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, UNA and The Flor-Ala pre-date our existence and will hopefully outlive us all. This newspaper is more than whose name is listed as editor. This university is more than those in charge at any given time. Your time at UNA, while it may feel like a lifetime, is only a brief snapshot of all that was and is and is to come. If you find yourself in this little town at this one-of-a-kind institution, make the best of it and do all you can to leave it better than you found it. I hope I’ve done the same.

As I leave, there are some people who have made an undeniable impact on my college experience who I have to give credit where it’s due.

Thank you, Justin, for teaching me the inescapable power of sharing the truth.

Thank you, AJ, for teaching me what to do and how not to do it. Thank you for reminding me to advocate for myself. Use your voice for good.

Thank you, Austin, for teaching me to appreciate things I otherwise would have taken for granted. I still believe in you.

Thank you, Hannah, for being my friend since the very first night and for all the others. I’m so glad you’re happy now.

Thank you, Natalie, for holding a girl you’d only known for two months on the floor while she sobbed. I’ll always love you for that.

Thank you, Emma (Knowles), for being the first, best and only roommate I’ve ever had. You kept my head above the water.

Thank you, Ms. Kingsbury, for being an ally to me on this campus since day one. You are the coolest, no matter what anyone says. You are such an integral part of my college experience. You deserve the best in the world just for introducing me to Natasha Trethewey. Everything else is a bonus.

Thank you, Ms. Jennifer Pate, for being the best FYE teacher and continuing to support me and student media over the years.

Thank you, Dr. Cain, for always being someone I could trust and ask questions. You are the embodiment of what it means to be a successful media professional to me.

Thank you, Dr. Sanders, for proving those who told me not to trust you wrong, even though you didn’t have to, and thank you for never accepting anything less than my best from me.

Thank you, Dr. White, for always making time for me and for taking me seriously.

Thank you, Dr. Gurley, for being exceptional.

Thank you, Dr. Tammy, for listening to all my stories (mostly secondhand, but that’s besides the point) and always being willing to help. You’re a gem.

Thank you, Maggie from SCS.

Thank you, Alisha Lee, for telling me I was the only one you trusted to take over Arts & Entertainment when you graduated. That meant the world to me.

Thank you, Ethan, for being my unlikely friend and for seeing the real me beneath the rubble. Weird trees, bro.

Thank you, Brady, for all the brotherly love in the world, for believing in me and being one of my biggest fans. I love you.

Thank you, Casey and Andréa, for trekking through this crazy journey with me. Although we may not talk every day, I’ve known we’re family since the beginning. I can’t believe we made it, but I’m proud of us.

Thank you, Scelena, for making work, school and life tolerable for all this time. I’m so incredibly proud of you. Keep paving the way.

Thank you, Zach, for keeping me in check and for being my buddy/wise, old father. Keep taking the jumps you think are too wide to land. You’ll make it, I promise.

Thank you, TJ, Jas, Selena, Willa, Nick and everyone at Subway and Walmart.

Thank you, Amber, for over-analyzing every situation with me and for all of the late night rants. Sorry for coming into your office unannounced.

Thank you, Ms. Julie and Elliott, for treating me as your own and giving me a second home.

Thank you, Chad and Allison, for being my rock and my Florence parents. I wouldn’t have made it without you, and I mean that wholeheartedly.

Thank you, Mrs. Deneve, Mrs. Vetter, Mrs. Sayer and everyone at Victory who made me who I am now.

Thank you, Cathy (Ms. Wood), for loving, nurturing and supporting me, but more importantly, everyone else in student media. You’re our hero.

Thank you, Lavette, for having the utmost faith in even my smallest ideas. I am who I am because you are who you are. It brings me to tears now when I realize how you carried all the weight on your back while receiving half of the credit and praise everyone else did, yet you never complained. You always saw me as an equal, never a threat, and I love you for that. You never led with anything less than grace, love and resilience, and it’s my honor to have learned from the best.

Thank you, Heather. As TS once wrote, “in losing grips, on sinking ships, you showed up just in time.”

Thank you, Trenedy, for trusting me. I’m sorry we were both skeptical of one another at first. You’re incredible, and I love you.

Thank you, Emma, Treasure, Mary-Stella, Kendal, Kelley, Maddy, Bre, Sam, Holly, Lauren and Logan, for coming to every meeting and for trying even when you were scared. Each and every one of you has changed my life forever. I am so proud of where every single one of you are now, and this is only the beginning. If no one else stands up to clap for you, you know I’ll be there. I love you.

Thank you, everyone I’ve worked alongside at the Flor-Ala.

Thank you, everyone who’s let me tell their story here.

Thank you, Sam, for giving me something to fight for other than myself. I’d do it again.

Thank you, Emma (Tanner), for being you and for sticking with me. I never knew how bad I needed you as a friend until I had you. Thank you for being someone I can trust to carry the Flor-Ala into the future. I’m so proud of you. Remember that I didn’t make you; you and your hard work made you. “I know someday I’m gonna meet her. It’s a fever dream.” Go be great.

Thank you, Anna, Bella, Sarah, Rukayah, Cole and Micah, for loving and supporting me then and loving and supporting me now.

Thank you, Lacey Jane, for bringing me here and helping me get on my way, even when you felt like you were losing yours. I’m more proud of you than words could ever say.

Thank you, Meggie, Dadoo, Mama Beth, Marme, Pa, McKenna, Abby, Ben, Joy, Jennifer, Jim, Amy and John.

Thank you, Dad, Angel, Zack, Nathen, Alyssia, Ahlani and Avah.

Thank you, Momma, Julie, Cooper, Mammam, Pop, Leigh, Forrest, Andrea, Frannie and Jeremy.

Thank you, Luke, Leia and Rory, for the emotional support.

Thank you, my Joshua, my best friend, for making life easy, even when it isn’t. Thank you for simultaneously being everything to me and letting me be my own person and chase my own dreams. Thank you for knowing every version of me and loving me anyways. I would not and could not have done this without you. When I wanted to give up, I did it for you, just as I did it for me.

Thank you, God.

Thank you, UNA. I’ll love you always.