Back in the saddle again

Lenita Marie Johnson, Staff Writer

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Abraham Fuentes

Returning to college after several decades in the work world can be tumultuous and often a little crazy-making, to put it mildly, especially after earning a Bachelor of Science in media during the wild and crazy mid-70s.

Now I spend hours in a classroom and even more in the newsroom at The Oak Leaf, Santa Rosa Junior College’s student news media.

I’m taking classes in yoga and social media while working with a great and fantastic program called CALWORKS that assists new and returning students who are coming back to college or just starting in their first year.

It’s amazing how little sleep one can exist on while in college. Classes, homework (yuck!), traipsing across this dang campus, which feels like it’s the size of a small city — that’s the story of my life these days.

Beginning in Boston

My life as a student began at Boston University when I became the first in my family to go to college. The eldest of nine, I was only 16 when I moved into the dormitory as a freshman, and was assigned the roommate from you-know-where. Talk about spoiled rotten, that doesn’t even do justice to how miserable she was. She was an only child and definitely fit the cliche. Not only was she untidy, she snored in her sleep! My second year I successfully petitioned to move off campus.

I majored in broadcasting, film and journalism with a minor in pre-law while working part-time in the restaurant world. My days were spent in the classroom, on campus and at public libraries. The Boston public library, Kenmore Square and Boston’s Pier 39, were among my favorite getaway spots. As somewhat of a social butterfly, dates often included very late nights in high-end eateries.

Yet a love life? Forget about it!

Most of the time I existed on very little sleep and felt like a mummy. I worked a lot in media. I started in radio at WBUR, BU’s radio station, then moved into print at the Bay State Banner — the first Black-owned weekly newspaper in New England — and afterwards I began my television experience at WGBH, Boston’s award-winning public television station. After graduation I moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where I went back to my roots in radio, primarily covering news and politics.

Then it was off to Germany and working as a freelancer for the Associated Press.

Germany

The Germans were uber-friendly. My command of their language was extremely limited and most of those I met spoke little or limited English with a German accent. Yet they generally had a smile and would say hello to me in German, and I’d respond with the broken-German I was learning.

I lived with my younger brother in his quaint home. He was career military, stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army. I thought I was living in a foreign movie with him and his German wife. She was a sweetheart and madly in love with Charles. Of course, I spent quite some time reminding him that I was his older not younger sister, even though he was almost 8 feet tall!

Talk about cold.

Virtually every day was somewhere below zero and freezing every part of my body. Often I would go off on an adventure, a day trip to Heidelberg, shopping or visiting pubs. I thought I knew snow from growing up in New England. Ha! Every single day was partly spent shovelling from the snowstorm the night before.

Back to the U.S.

When I returned home, I landed in warm San Diego and started law school while working part-time in news. My Navy lieutenant fiancée practically lived in the law library with me; he would sneak in food during late-night study sessions.

After a stint clerking for the San Diego County counsel, I decided to take a break — from both law school and the philandering lieutenant. I left for Brentwood, near Los Angeles. Long story short, L.A. wasn’t a fit, so I headed north and discovered Sonoma County wine country. I fell in love with Bodega Bay though I was a little hesitant when a group of black birds — like in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” — would all of a sudden gather around.

I worked in the wine industry, landing a position as a wine broker for Windsor Vineyards, which specialized in custom-labelled, award-winning wines with a female winemaker, Carol Shelton. I was the only Black broker for quite a while, and in no time I was in the top 10 in annual sales. I was driven to become No. 1, and became quite the adventurer who spent weekends discovering San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Then it was back to school.

SRJC calls

It’s interesting relating to my younger, 30-year-plus younger, classmates. Most are young enough to be my children! I love everyone in my classes, even including my professors. Well, most of the time.

Every now and then there are a handful of students in my age group (and no, I’m not going to tell you my age), so I’m not completely a solo act.

This brings me to my most challenging class: social media. It’s a skillset younger students appear to have learned when they were in diapers.

When I was at BU, our communications teachers tried to warn us the day would come when we would be living in a 21st century version of “The Twilight Zone.”

While these new forms of communication are an opportunity for study, they are a foreign language to me and other older students who grew up with stationery, typewriters and rotary phones. In my lifetime, I’ve learned to speak English, French and German, but the language of social media has been the most frustrating to learn.

Yet I persist. I am learning as I go and slowly gaining more knowledge of  Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others. There are more programs than I can grasp…thank God for my younger comrades who are extremely patient. The bottom line is media is media, from the Stone Age to today.

Although my social media class has challenged me almost to the point of tears at times (though I love the teacher!), working on the Oak Leaf is a blast and feels like being part of an exclusive fraternity and sorority combined. There is literally never a dull moment at this joint.

It’s always hoppin’.   

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