Alumni News



Ben Fortun receives the full ride at Columbia University. We caught up with the surf champ who reflects on his time at SMC.


You had a highly celebrated career in surfing. Why SMC?

Surfing was great. I poured all of my time into surfing, and traveled all over to find and surf perfect waves. I had an accident on a surf trip to Central America, which led to me having to quit surfing for a while. My girlfriend at the time made me go to school to occupy the time I had free now that my surfing days were over. I honestly hated school and thought I would hate SMC, but on my first day I was met with an incredible energy and community that made me realize school can be enjoyable. I would not change anything about my past…the real question should be “what took you so long to find SMC?

As a Dale Ride Intern alum, tell us about your experience in Washington D.C.

The Dale Ride Internship was the most incredible experience, and I couldn’t believe that such a unique program could take place at a community college. My internship placement was at Oxfam, which fit to my ideologies and work ethic. I enjoyed working with some very impressive people at the offices of Oxfam, and I enjoyed participating in the democratic process and witness our senators and congress debate and discuss world issues.

We also happened to be in D.C. during a historical shift in direction, when the Supreme Court announced the complete legality of same sex marriage. It was fantastic being at the epicenter of such a beautiful moment.

The bookstores in the capital are plentiful and unique and I had a great time exploring them, and even had the great luck of meeting Ralph Nader at one. We were looking for the same book!

I also got to meet a fellow SMC alumnus who worked as an advisor to two of our presidents and vice-presidents! It was inspiring to see someone successful who started his education the same way I did.

Though the goings on in the political halls of D.C. were interesting and a great experience to participate in, I most enjoyed the presence of my fellow interns. We cooked together, lived together, argued together, laughed together and explored the city together. I was amazed at the amount of talent and intelligence among the group and was proud that we would be representing SMC in Washington, D.C. This did not go unnoticed as we – along with the Dale Ride Program itself – were praised for our conduct and work ethic by our work supervisors. “I cannot believe you are all from community college!” was the common reaction.

Where are you now and what about your SMC experience influenced your current success?

I am studying history at Columbia University in New York City and absolutely loving every minute of it. Through my work this semester, I have earned a seat in the class of the infamous history professor Eric Foner. “New York’s A Lonely Town (When You’re The Only Surfer Boy Around)” as the old song says, but I am taking full advantage of the city and the museums…and even sneaking away for a few surf sessions here and there.

When I’m not studying or freezing in the cold waters of the east coast surf scene, I write for the school newspaper, the Columbia Spectator. I have my own column “Wheel Of Fortun” and have published a few stories that have had some positive reactions from the student body.

Classes can be very hard at Columbia, but I am amazed at how much I rely on the things I learned at SMC. Our Counseling 20 class at SMC taught me the skills of being an effective student, which make me a better student at Columbia.

Most importantly, the professors I encountered at SMC are world-class intellectuals, and challenged me to question everything. Part of the status quo in the Ivy League is to follow what everyone else is doing, but utilizing the skills I gathered at SMC, I learned that deviating from the norm and questioning what you are being taught always ends in learning more and doing better.

Whenever I visit L.A. I try to visit SMC, because once you go to another campus you realize just how beautiful and relaxing the SMC campus is.

What SMC student services did you take advantage of that you would recommend to current students?

I wish I took advantage of more of the services at SMC, and I warn all current students at SMC not to let pride block you from help, because the services at SMC are incredible and you will learn volumes.

I personally took advantage of counseling, the library, and office hours. My counselor Patricia Nakao is an incredible woman and was instantly the reason why I found SMC to be such a great institution. She had an answer to everything and actually cared about what and how I was doing. She is a huge contributor to my drive to keep furthering my education.

The Library at SMC is fantastic. Not only does the architecture make me feel like I am aboard a Star Wars ship, but it is also packed full of knowledge and information. I think I have enough books under my belt to say that I am well read, and I have the SMC library to thank for that. Everything from Bukowski to Tolstoi, Pynchon to Hemingway, Shakespeare to Chaucer, Friedman to Marx and everything in between can be found in the SMC library, along with amazing librarians who love to help you research your essay topics, teach you how to use an unfathomably large online database system, and help you use correct citations and references.

Professors at SMC are great and you should take use of their office hours. GO TO OFFICE HOURS. Seriously, I have learned so much from talking with my professors simply in the confines of their offices where I can ask any question I want.

Shout out to an SMC faculty or staff member. Who and why?

Its impossible to list just one because I have not come across a single employee who does not love their job on campus.

Once again my counselor, Patricia Nakao, has made the hugest impact on my life. She may be able to counsel only a lucky few, but her class Counseling 20 is open to all, and I suggest students take it because school will become much more simplified after listening to her lessons.

Dr. John Pohl, Dr. Eileen Rabach, and Dr. Sang Chi were my main inspirations for my academic and intellectual endeavors.

Dr. Pohl is THE authority on Meso-American art and has multiple books published. He gives numerous lectures and talks at esteemed institutions. He is a phenomenal person and before he became a professor was heavily involved in the punk rock scene of L.A.

Dr. Rabach inspired me to be politically charged in my actions and academic interests, and her classes are always a popular choice among students.

Dr. Chi taught me how to write. I thank him every time I can, because without his help I would not have gotten this far.

What wisdom can you share with SMC students today?

Besides all of the cliché things I may be able to say about working harder, or focusing harder, I think it is important for the students of SMC to remember to be human. I think SMC offers a great haven for experimentation and furthering fields of study. So many of us will enter school thinking we have to get the most economically strategic degree that will get us the best job, and this is an absolutely fine goal to have but, make sure you want to do that.

This is a time for most of us to explore and wander into new interests, and SMC will have the resources to supplement that interest. Do what you love, and discover what you love at SMC.

Are you Proud to be SMC? 

When anybody attends SMC, they'll learn first-hand that SMC has nothing to offer but the best. I am so proud to be a part of SMC. As the Beach Boys sing it, “Be true to your school.” SMC is my school.



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