At an early age, Kayla Capehart, 23, learned one of life’s most important lessons: nobody accomplishes anything by themselves. When she graduated with a BA in Health Exercise with a minor in Public Health from Roanoke College earlier this year, she became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Capehart credits her relatives and close friends for being a catalyst for all that she has accomplished to date.
Born and raised in Williamsburg, the Jamestown High School product has always been driven to reach her full potential. By the time she was a junior, Capehart had already narrowed her college choices down to three schools: George Mason University, Christopher Newport University and Roanoke College.
Capehart ultimately picked Roanoke College because “of the small class sizes. I wanted to be able to establish relationships with my professors, the faculty and staff as opposed to just being a number or a face that they rarely saw.”
During her undergraduate years, Capehart’s favorite courses were anatomy and physiology, exercise physiology and public health.
Maxine Fitzgerald was the first African American student to attend Roanoke College. She also holds the distinction of being the first person of color in Virginia to enroll at a private institution. Each year, an award in her honor is given to students who blaze a trail for others to follow.
Capehart was one of three individuals to receive the Maxine Fitzgerald Trailblazer Award this year. The two others were Mya Virdi and Brianna Manigualt-King.
Capehart found out she was a recipient via an email from Roanoke College’s Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Natasha Saunders.
“I am so honored that I, along with two of my good friends, were chosen to be the recipients of this award because Ms. Fitzgerald left some really big shoes to fill,” she said. “My heart is so full. Winning this award means I upheld Ms. Fitzgerald’s trailblazing legacy which is something that I do not take for granted.”
When Capehart started taking college classes in 2016, an airborne contagious respiratory and vascular disease capable of taking over the country was the furthest thing from her mind. Capehart says she couldn’t be prouder of the proactive steps her school took to tackle COVID-19. “Roanoke College immediately put protocols in place and there were consequences if the new rules weren’t adhered to,” she said.
Since the start of her college journey four years ago, Capehart says she has become more open-minded to new things and different opinions.
She offered this perspective for students considering Roanoke College: “I would first ask them what their ideal college experience looks like. What class size are they interested in? Are they interested in Greek life or work-study? Having a definitive answer to those questions will guide people in making the right decision.”
She added, “I would also advise looking into what you can create while on campus. One of the things I loved about Roanoke College was that if something didn’t exist, a student created it or worked with people on campus to get it started.”
Capehart wants to be an inspiration and example for the next generation. One of her life goals is to own a fitness center in a low-income community to bring access to exercise and healthier lifestyles.