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I started taking classes in September of 1980 at Fullerton College, and I have been enrolled there every single semester ever since!!
In 2002 I happened to meet Dr. Jeff Horsley, the Chancellor of the North Orange County Community College District at that time. He informed me that by virtue of being a student for all those consecutive years I had set a national record for continuous attendance at a college or university.
In the mid-1970’s I came to Orange County to pursue a Master’s Degree in Special Education from California State University Fullerton. However, after I graduated in 1976, I painfully admitted to myself that I no longer wished to develop a teaching career in Special Education after all, and so I applied to Southern California College of Optometry to become an eye care professional. The curriculum at this school in Fullerton led to a four-year doctoral degree, and at that time it was one of only 12 institutions of optometry in the United States. After graduating in June of 1980, I decided to stay in this area to begin my career. However, deep down in my heart I really wanted to do more than just practice optometry.
The wide majority of my classmates in professional school had constantly moaned about the drudgery of studying so hard for four years, and they had often declared that once they became eye doctors, they would never “open up another book again.” However, I absolutely wanted to return to college to learn more about different areas of life outside the profession of optometry. I also wanted to meet a wider variety of folks on a daily basis so that I could be exposed to a lot of different interests. I had always been fascinated by areas like psychology, music, art, foreign languages and history, and so I was determined to learn even more about those fields and many other subjects.
I decided to enroll at Fullerton College since it was very close to my house and the extremely low cost of tuition was too good to be true. Registration for classes in September of 1980 required us all to wait in long lines at the student center in the former quad area and hope that our desired classes were still available. Then we were directed to the Bursar's office next door to pay our bill, which was seemingly next to nothing. I think the charge per unit was something like 12 dollars. Not bad compared to the 46 bucks per unit that is charged now in 2012.
My first class was on a Monday night and it was Music Appreciation with Patricia Overbey. On Tuesday night I took Nutrition Today with Patricia Oetting, followed by a Thursday night class in Art History with Kathleen Johnson. I cannot tell you how jazzed I was to be gaining knowledge about such different walks in life. I was also thrilled to be learning just for its intrinsic value instead of trying to compete with everyone else in the class. Definitely no pressure compared to my previous schools, but millions of times more enjoyable.
I received my first set of grades in January of 1981, and apparently they were fairly decent as I made some sort of “President’s Honor List.” However, my nice scores were accompanied by a note from the Registrar, Irma Rodriguez, who reminded me that I had not yet selected a major! It went on to inform me that those students ‘without specific goals in school tend to have a more difficult time succeeding later in life.’ I took that message with a grain of salt but also with some humor, and I taped it to my refrigerator door. As the years went by, I ended up with a whole slew of those same notes all over my kitchen!! Finally, years later, she probably got sick and tired of me being so “indecisive” about my field of concentration, that she stopped sending them to me altogether. Thank God for that because I was truly running out of kitchen space.
Further along the way, I took Spanish classes from Holly Colville, Dr. Mireille Taar, and Alice Arana (one of the most demanding, but fair, teachers I have ever had); tennis classes from Coach Robert Moore, who was the most knowledgeable person, player or coach, I have ever met in this sport; Business Law with Betty Flynn, who taught me enough legalese so that I need not be afraid of lawyers; Jazz Appreciation, where I learned all about our nationally famous “Lemon Street Stompers”; Fundamentals of Music where I was told that I could not carry a tune in a bucket even to save my life; and the History of California, where I discovered the necessity of knowing the local peoples who started it all for our great State. Each one of these courses had a certain huge inspirational “wow” factor that I really appreciated to the max.
The current library was located in the same place where the new student center / cafeteria is now (bordering Chapman Avenue), and the old student center was where the current library is today. They traded places about 6 years ago. And to get more safely from one side of Chapman to the other, we can now use a covered pedestrian bridge that went up in the early 1980’s.
Some of the other major campus changes since 1980 include a new bookstore and counseling offices on the other side of Chapman, a brand new structure for Social Sciences, a brand new Kinesiology building next to the football field, the revamped track and field facility, a new Science building to replace the old one, and two huge parking garages. And in 2008 the school replaced two of the tennis courts and the outdoor racquetball courts with a brand new Olympic size swimming pool. A new Technical Sciences building to replace the old one is well under construction as this essay is being written.
The campus is really quite beautiful, especially with the new library and its stunningly magnificent curved glass front on the second story. Kudos definitely must go to the administrators who were responsible for enacting these changes over the recent years.
A good number of teachers who taught me at FC were excellent and were comparable to many of the teachers whom I had at my undergraduate school at the College of William and Mary in Virginia; in graduate school at Cal State Fullerton’s Department of Special Education; and at Southern California College of Optometry.
I particularly enjoyed studying French with Dr. Violette Vornicel-Guthmann who spoke a mile a minute in French in an effort to conduct her class via total immersion. German teacher Heidi Crabbs also taught French very well, and, much like Violette, she had a heart of gold and a great sense of humor.
Studying two semesters of British History followed by two semesters of Western Civilization with Dr. Nancy Bjorklund was totally an incredible privilege as she seemed to know everything about everything. She was really easy to talk to, and I was always in awe of her knowledge and her frame of reference. You really had to get up pretty early in the morning to fool her!!
I must have taken tennis a bazillion times as I had so much fun learning different parts of the game from several different people like Coach Scott Giles, Coach Lisa Bassi, Coach Ed Huffman, Coach Gina Bevec and Dr. Peter Snyder. I also considered all of them to be great personal friends.
The various Business, Personal Finance and Accounting classes allowed me to understand and to manage my own optometric practice so much better.
Learning to play the piano for four straight semesters helped me to appreciate the energy and concentration that is required of any good musician who is practicing for a recital. Performing also forced me to focus intensely and to develop a ton of confidence. I had to play songs in front of much more talented classmates who could play the same music a lot better than I ever could. I was always sweating bullets whenever I played.
Women’s History with Dr. Emily Teipe helped me to recognize and to appreciate the fundamental aspects of true equality in human relations. Acknowledging the pioneering women who made us aware of the intrinsic value of each individual regardless of gender has helped me to display a much deeper respect for everyone.
Learning computers with Carolanne Rogers, Dale Craig, Joel Willenbring and Dr. Joyce Morton allowed me to overcome fears of the cold machines that have seemingly taken over our lives. I thought for sure that Eleanor Uyeda was going to flunk me in my very first WordPerfect class because I kept forgetting to save any of my work. However, like many of my other FC professors, she turned out to be the nicest person and a great friend who laughed at all my jokes.
As the years continued to pass, and I grew to become a “veritable fountain of knowledge,” I was finding it more and more difficult to find an interesting class that I had not yet taken but also one that could fit into my work schedule.
I pursued more classes in Art, Astronomy with Hans Rau, Physical Science Review, Health Science with Dr. Robert Elliott, Environmental Science, Applied Psychology, Sociology of Women, Music Concert Hour and History. If Irma Rodriguez were to point a gun to my head at this time to force me to declare a major (finally), I would have enough credits for an Associate of Arts degree in History. But, alas and alack, I have not yet taken English and Math!!! I suppose I will enroll in those two subjects “after I get my feet wet and get adjusted to college life” just a little more. I honestly do not like to be rushed into things, and so I hope that you will bear with me!!
Around the early 1990’s when I reached my mid-40’s, I started taking more and more Kinesiology and Weight Training classes in order to keep in better physical shape. My hardest class, however, was the Spinning class taught by women’s soccer coach, Pamela Lewin. I always ended up sweating like a farm animal, but I lost a lot of weight. I also respected all her efforts because she performed the same grueling exercises alongside the rest of us. She also killed me in Yoga, but I would never admit to telling her that and so please do not say anything to her.
I learned a lot in Dave Lopez’s Automotive Fundamentals class so that now I know what that little blinking red light has been trying to tell me all these years. I even have some pieces left over from our final exam in 2002 when we had to remove parts of an engine and then put them back into their proper places.
I also took Badminton and Ping Pong to do something different and to see how bad my eye-hand coordination really was. Badminton coach Michelle Tafoya, who actually worked in the counseling department, and women’s basketball coach Debbie Woelke in Ping Pong were excellent instructors and just very nice people. I also took some interesting lecture classes in Kinesiology from Constance Carroll and Coach Scott Giles, two of the very nicest folks I have ever met. Trainer Bill Chamberlain and Coach Rhett Price totally knew their stuff when it came to treating athletic injuries and explaining the principles of First Aid and CPR. I learned so much from each of them.
A class that I think everyone---student, faculty and administration--- should be required to take would be Stress Management and Relaxation. I took one in 1998 from men’s basketball coach, Dieter Horton, and it prevented me from acting maniacal.
In 2000 I saw a notice that FC was looking for a new Dean of Admissions. I told myself that I could do that type of work as it is not that much different from maintaining secure records in my own optometry office and that a job like that would be a lot of fun. Boy, was I so incredibly naïve!! I am so glad I did not give up my day job. Unbeknownst to me, the District had conducted a nationwide search and they appropriately selected Peter Fong, a man with a doctorate in the field of education / administration.
Also as the new century arrived, I was moving right along to combat my declining attention span. To its credit, Fullerton College constantly adjusts its curriculum to meet society’s needs, and so I was able to continue taking classes in a wide variety of subjects. I pursued different courses such as Opera, Oceanography, Weight Lifting, Power Walking with former women’s basketball coach Colleen Riley, Marriage and Family with Eduardo Perez, Aerobics and Pilates, both with Shirley Yidonoy, and a ton of Basketball with former men’s basketball coach Ezra Van Horn. Learning from Richard Dastyck and Claudia Lowe taught me that Geography was “where it was all at.”
I even took some courses in Criminal Justice with Lieutenant Ed Oglesby (retired LAPD), and his sessions were very much of an eye opener. I never wrote so many long papers (with references!!) for an individual instructor in my life. But, I learned how to express myself a lot better via the written word. His international potluck buffet at the end of the Multicultural Diversity class was a real treat, and both Lt. Oglesby and I took turns doing magic tricks in front of the whole class.
I suppose that this would be a good time to mention that in 1995-96, I took a year’s worth of classes in Magic at Cal State Fullerton. I had always been in awe of this performance art, and I had so much fun learning it from Dr. David Thorsen, the symphony music conductor at the University. By entertaining others, I truly developed so much more self-confidence and a better sense of basic logic.
I have yet to take a cooking class, which I think would be real blast and something incredibly practical.
This past spring semester (2012) I enrolled in another Nutrition class, this time with Karen Robinson, who turned out to be incredibly informative teacher and a very understanding person. I am currently in a rather intriguing class called Street Narcotics and Vice with retired police officer Thomas Angioletti. With each class I am appreciating more and more what an incredibly frustrating and dangerous job he had as a Special Agent to keep Americans safe from dope. If people only knew.
My total units from 1980 are about 400, and it is interesting that people point out that I have not taken any English or Math classes. Maybe I am not quite ready to graduate just yet!! Besides learning for learning’s sake, I received an official hard copy award in the form of a huge and comprehensive book on French grammar. Apparently, Dr. Violette Vornicel-Guthmann, thought that I had done well enough in her advanced French class that she recommended me to receive the top award in French for the Spring semester of 1987. Merci beaucoup, Violette.
Along these same lines of continuity, over the years I had gradually become friendly with the support staff at FC. Early in the morning on the first day of the school year (1988?) I walked into the “Hornet Café” for my morning fix.
One of the familiar dining room ladies looked at me surprisingly and then remarked, “Are you STILL here?”
I just looked at the floor and very sheepishly mumbled, “Yes ma’am.”
And then after a long pregnant pause, she shook her head, smiled and said rather encouragingly, “Well, son, you just hang in there. If my oldest boy can get his AA, I have a feeling that maybe you just might be able to do it, too!! But, you have to remember to work real hard and not goof off like he did at first. Do you follow me???”
I kept staring down at the floor and just said weakly, “Yes ma’am. I’ll do my best. Honest.”
And she then said, “Good boy.”
Many young students ask me if I teach at Fullerton College. I naturally tell them that I am a student just like they are. And then I proceed to let them know that I have to study just as hard to achieve good grades and that I have never asked any of the teachers for any special breaks or privileges. I have done every assignment; turned in all papers; stayed up way too late and got up way too early to absorb last minute information; did study sessions with other class members; tutored and was tutored by other students; actually went to class even though it was raining; and I never skipped a final exam just because I could not find a parking space. Some teachers said that I was a model student because I did all the work. Amen to that, but I did learn an awful lot. And I did all of this without doing Facebook or texting anyone!!
This latter part is due to the fact that I might be one of the very few adults whom I know who does not even have a cell phone.
Which brings me to the topic of technological changes and the resultant social interactions (or lack thereof) among the students at FC. Back in 1980 we had no such things as computers, internet, cell phones or the social network. Now I see almost everyone constantly preoccupied with texting and / or using the cell phone in some way no matter where they are on campus nor what time of the day it is. I feel that the constant use of a cell phone is truly addictive, and perhaps highly responsible for many people not being able to communicate meaningfully in face-to-face conversations anymore. I think it is extremely sad, especially when I see the students using their cell phones for whatever reason during class. Or whenever I hear of people actually answering their cell phones while on a date with someone else!! I have even had people dare to answer their cell phones while I performed their eye exam. Unbelievable. Thank God for the laws regulating the use of cell phones while driving or else we would be in even worse trouble than we are now!!
If I were to give any single blanket advice to you, my fellow students (more than likely none of you were even thought of when I first started in 1980), I would tell you to stay in school and get at least your AA degree no matter what. It would be an accomplishment that you will treasure for the rest of their lives, psychologically if for no other reason. You will be glad that you stuck it out.
And even when you do get started on your own career, if it is at all possible, go back to school again and take another class or two in something else that you have always been interested in learning. And keep doing it. The price is right, you can always learn something new, you will make many new friends, and you may even like it.
If you are not keen on getting a formal academic degree from the Community College systems, you can still go to a trade school and /or take classes at the Adult Education Center e.g. the North Orange County Adult Education Center in Anaheim. Many of those latter classes, especially in computers, are free and you can really learn a lot at a fraction of the cost. Bottom line---keep going to school and you will learn more about yourself in the process. And that ain’t bad!
And lastly, if you are truly, truly not sure of what direction you want to take in your life, joining the military might not be the worst thing that you could do. It will give you a sense of purpose and patriotism for the greatest country in the world. After graduating with a BA in Psychology in 1968 from the College of William and Mary, I had to fulfill my ROTC obligation by starting out as a Second Lieutenant in the Army Medical Service Corps. Four years later, I was honorably discharged as a Captain. During that time I went to Korea for a year, never fired a weapon at anybody, grew up more than I ever believed was possible, and I totally appreciated my country all the more.
By the way, all of this advice to consider the military applies to the females also, because America is their country, too.
I thank very deeply and most sincerely all the teachers who have inspired me with their wisdom and for their friendship and understanding. I also appreciate very much all the young students with whom I have become friends throughout all these decades. I have certainly maintained a “young and hip” outlook on life by hanging out with all these “dudes.”
There are always a gazillion and a half very bright young folks in our school every semester, and I continually wish all of them the best of luck.
And also thank you to all of you who have chosen to develop our relationship on a professional level by allowing me to do your eye exam. I will even examine your other eye. No extra charge. Eye Care For You.
I do not know when I will ever stop going to school. There is still so much to learn and so many people to meet. Honest.
God Bless All of You,
Ernest D. Ramos, M.S., O.D.
Class of ????